The ABCs of Polyamory

Word up, everybody say

When you hear the call you’ve got to get it underway

Word up, it’s the code word

No matter where you say it, you know that you’ll be heard

–“Word Up!”, Cameo

Hey, my kinky, polyam peeps! Listen, I gotta level with ya. This past weekend I was in beautiful NEW YORK CITY with Panda for our annual four-day getaway. We saw “Six” on Broadway, stopped by our favorite pizza joint and cat cafe, and basically shirked off all adult responsibilities for 96 hours. However, I’m learning that in the blogosphere, it’s publish or perish, so rather than not do ANY work, I’m just gonna phone it in. That’s right! You’re getting a half-assed effort from me for this entry, so if you’re disappointed, take it up with management, who also happens to be me…

You’re damn right, Ryan, and I don’t give a shit!

So we’ve had a couple of heavy posts recently (EPP, polyamory and politics) and I’ve been keeping this post in my back pocket to lighten the mood and have a little bit of fun. I like to think I have both polyam newbies and veterans reading this blog, and this one is targeted towards those new to the community, although I think even the veterans can learn a thing or two (apparently there’s a whole history behind the term “nesting partner” I just learned about yesterday). I believe language matters since it’s the foundation of communication, so we’re gonna go through the alphabet and run through some basic (and not so basic) polyam terminology.

So, without further adieu, let’s start at the top:

A is for Ace – Ace is short for “Asexual”, which is actually a queer term, not a polyam one. I’m including it in this list because 1) There’s a significant overlap between the polyam and queer community, and 2) There seems to be this myth that asexuals can’t be polyamorous, and that couldn’t be further from the truth. While we often conflate sex for love, polyamory isn’t about “just sex”, and asexuals are just as valid members of our community as anyone else.

B is for Boundary – There’s a significant difference between a boundary and a rule. A boundary is a limitation we place on our own behavior, while a rule is a limitation we place on someone else’s. While we may find it tempting to try to control the behavior of others, it’s ultimately a futile attempt and it’s far more effective to place and enforce boundaries than inform others what type of behavior we are and are not willing to accept. We cannot control what others do, only how we react to their actions.

C is for Cowboy/Cowgirl/Cowperson – This is a term I just learned about last year, which is interesting, because I ran into one a year before that. A Cowboy/girl/person is a monogamous individual who dates a polyam person with the intention of making them monogamous. The term arises from the idea of “cutting someone out from the herd”. It can be painful when you lose a partner to a cowperson (speaking from personal experience), however, remember that no one can “steal” your partner. If they chose to end a relationship with you, it’s THEIR choice. No one else’s.

D is for DADT – DADT stands for Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell. It’s a form of ethical non-monogamy in which partners don’t share details about their other relationships with each other. It’s often seen with couples who are new to polyamory and/or one of them are monogamous. The idea is that if the monogamous partner doesn’t know about the polyamorous partners relationships, it won’t cause distress. While DADT relationships can be successful, they can be very tricky because either A) the anxiety on behalf of the monogamous partner eventually becomes too much to bear or B) the “polyamorous” partner may be using DADT as an excuse to be unfaithful to their monogamous partner (“Don’t worry babe, my spouse is totally cool with me seeing other people as long as they don’t know about it). It’s a tricky area of polyamory that many veterans tend to shy away from.

E is for The Ethical SlutThe Ethical Slut is a book published by Dossie Easton and Janet Hardy in 1997 and has since been revised in a second and third edition. It’s considered the Bible of Polyamory and Ethical Non-Monogamy. I highly recommend it for anyone interested in ENM and for those who are currently on their journey.

F is for Fluid Bonding – Fluid Bonding is just a fancy word for unprotected sex. When a couple (or group of individuals) agree to fluid bonding, they agree to no longer use barriers during penetrative sex. Because this is a riskier form of sexual intercourse, regular STI screenings should be done (at least once a year for penis-owners and twice a year for vulva-owners) and the practice should only be engaged in with individuals that carry the utmost level of trust.

G is for Gender – As I mentioned earlier, there’s a lot of overlap between the polyam and LGBTQ+ communities. As a cishet man who didn’t even meet his first queer person until he was in his mid-twenties, I’ve had a lot of learning to do. One of the biggest is the differences between gender and sex. Gender is how you identify, sex is what your biological organs represent. Not all men have penises and not all women have vaginas. Remember we should always respect whatever gender someone identifies with, and if you’re unsure, it’s okay to ask. There’s no harm in saying “What are your pronouns?” Normalize the question by stating yours as well.

H is for Hierarchy – I’ve learned that there’s two things the polyam community will never agree on: Does pineapple go on pizza and is hierarchy okay. When we discuss hierarchical relationships, we’re usually discussing prescriptive hierarchy, not descriptive hierarchy, which is a topic for another day. The idea that partners should be “ranked” by level of importance obviously rubs some members of the community the wrong way, however, much like other questionable behaviors in the community, sometimes we need to accept others relationship structures, as much as we may find them distasteful, as long as all parties have fully consented to the agreement.

I is for Intentional Family – Also known as “Chosen Family”, and I needed something that started with the letter “I”. One thing polyam has taught me is that your family isn’t your parents, or your grandparents, or your siblings, cousins, aunts, uncles, nieces, or nephews. You didn’t get a voice in any of that. You were simply born into it without your consent. Family is the people who you choose to spend time with, and those who choose to spend time with you. They say “blood is thicker than water”, but the full quote is “the blood of the covenant is thicker than the water of the womb”. The people you choose to be around are the ones that matter the most.

J is for Jealousy – One of the most frequent questions I get asked is “How do I stop feeling jealous?” That’s like saying “How do I stop feeling happy, or sad, or hungry?” Jealousy isn’t a switch you can turn on or off, nor is it an emotion that can be tamed. Polyam people feel jealousy just like everyone else. Our secret, if there is one, is that I believe we have better coping mechanisms to address it, and they’re skills that you can learn too. All feelings are valid, so let yourself feel what you need to feel. It’s our actions that ultimately impact others.

K is for Kitchen Table Polyamory – Kitchen Table Polyamory, or KTP, is a relationship style in which all members of a polycule engage in group activities together, or in extreme cases, live under the same roof. Imagine if the cast of “Friends” was one giant polycule. It looks a lot like that. While KTP can certainly be preferred by some, it’s important to find a relationship style that works best for all involved, even if it means the whole polycule isn’t as chummy as the characters in a late 90’s sitcom.

L is for Long Distance Relationship – A Long Distance Relationship, or LDR, is exactly what it sounds like: A relationship in which two people are seperated by a significant distance. They’re not for everyone, and honestly, if I wasn’t polyam, I wouldn’t be able to handle it. Fortunately for me, Foxy is someone who doesn’t require a significant amount of attention, and since they’re “only” about two and a half hours away, I still get to spend time with them about every six weeks or so.

M is for Metamour – Also referred to as “metas” a metamour is your partner’s partner. While we would want our metas to get along, sometimes that isn’t always the case. Remember, you don’t need to like your meta, however, for the sake of your shared partner, you need to respect them and treat them with civility.

N is for Nesting Partner – Originally coined as a term for a partner that one cohabitates with, the term has grown to include not just unmarried partners, but married ones as well. In polyam circles, I refer to Panda as my nesting partner as opposed to the term “spouse”, because I feel it provides a greater level of respect to my other partners, showing them that just because Panda and I cohabitate and are legally married, I don’t love them any less.

O is for One Penis Policy – One Penis Policy, or “OPP” for short, is a relationship structure in which vulva-owners in the polycule may have other partners who are vulva-owners, but only one partner who is a penis-owner. It’s viewed as transphobic, patriarchal, and limiting of autonomy, however, like hierarchy, the argument can be made that, as long as all parties voluntarily consent, it’s a distasteful, yet valid way to practice ethical non-monogamy.

P is for Parallel Polyamory – Much like KTP is on one end of the relationship spectrum in which metamours have their lives tightly entwined, Parallel Polyamory is on the other end in which metamours rarely interact. The truth is most polycules exist somewhere between the two extremes and it’s important to let the polycule style develop organically.

Q is for Quad – Where as a triad is a tightly-knit three-person polycule, a quad is a four-person polycule, although it’s doesn’t necessitate that each partner is romantically involved with the other three. I briefly found myself involved in a quad when Penguin was seeing Bunny’s nesting partner.

R is for Relationship Anarchy – Relationship Anarchy, or “RA” for short, is probably the most radical form of polyamory out there. It aims to eliminate all levels of hierarchy in not just romantic, but sexual and platonic relationships, as well as seeks to eliminate the role of the state in any inter-personal relationships.

S is for Solo Polyamory – While most polyamorus folx have one or more nesting partners, a solo polyam person has made a conscious decision to focus on their own personal and emotional development to the extent where they choose not to cohabitate with any of their partners.

T is for Throuple – A pormonteau of “three” and “couple”. Another word for triad, a relationship structure in which all three partners are dating each other. Not gonna lie. I can’t stand this word. Part of it is my inherent dislike of anything “trendy”, the other reason is that you only see it used with a cishet man and two cis bisexual women. I’ve heard a triad is actually four different relationships (A and B, B and C, A and C, and A, B, and C) and they all need to be nurtured independently. It’s not an easy relationship structure to manage, which leads us to…

U is for Unicorn Hunting – A Unicorn is a cis bisexual woman looking to engage in a relationship with a cis man and a cis woman. They’re called unicorns because of they’re alleged rarity, although I’ve discovered it’s not the cis bisexual part, but rather the willingness to engage with an established couple that makes them so unique. Unicorn hunting can be problematic because it often reduces the unicorn to the role of “sex toy” for a couple looking to “spice up” their relationship. While there’s nothing wrong with wanting a triad, it’s best to let them form organically rather than forcing someone to “fit” your already established dynamic.

V is for Veto Power – Veto power is an agreement in which one member of a relationship has the authority to end one of their partner’s relationships. It’s a rule, not a boundary, and hence generally seen as unethical. It’s often employed by polyam newbies who are looking to explore polyamory but aren’t yet equipped to handle the unexpected emotions that typically come in the early phases of one’s polyam journey.

W is for Wedding – Married couples in the polyam community are not uncommon. In fact, a good amount of Millenials, and more likely Gen X and even Baby Boomers started their polyam journey while they were currently married. Being part of a married couple carries both unique challenges as well as privileges that unmarried polyam folx do not have. If you’re married and starting your polyam journey, make sure you take the time to do all the research about couples privilege and how you can best view your existing relationship through this new polyam lens.

X is for eXplicit – Yeah, I know I cheated on this one. You try to find a relevant word or phrase that starts with “X”. When it comes to all matters in life, and particularly your relationships and consent, we must remember to be explicit. Consent is only truly valid if it’s informed, and we can’t be informed if we don’t know EXACTLY what we are agreeing to.

Y is for YES!!! – I cannot overemphasize how important the “enthusiastic” part of “enthusiastic positive consent” is. Young men and women, to a certain extent, are still taught that “No” means “Yes”. The way that we truly know that “Yes” means “Yes” is through enthusiasm. Remember, if it’s not a “HELL YES!!!” it’s a “HELL NO!!!”

Z is for… Z – A “Z”, sometimes called an “N” is a polycule structure in which you have four people, two of which are dating two other people, and the other two are dating one other person. Myself, Vixen, Vixen’s Spouse, and Milk Maid are a “Z” (I’m dating Vixen, Vixen is dating me and her spouse, her spouse is dating Vixen and Milk Maid, and Milk Maid is dating Vixen’s spouse). Polycules come in all shapes and sizes, and a lot of them are even more indeterminate (I didn’t include my other partners, Vixen’s other partners, or Milk Maid’s other partners in that diagram). It’s just a convenient way to refer to “the ‘cule” in casual conversation.

That’s it! That’s the whole alphabet! Now if you’ll excuse me, in keeping with the theme of putting off shit until the last minute, I now have 48 hours to put together a workshop on bratting that I’ve known about for three weeks. So as always…

Until next time, stay kinky, my friends…

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