As a polyamorous person, you are going to face prejudice and/or discrimination at some point in your life. Prejudice is having a negative attitude towards someone based on false/incorrect assumptions about that person’s social group, whereas discrimination is the prejudice put into action, whether by a person, group, or even the law (Sheff, 2017). In my opinion, both prejudice and discrimination hurt the same. I hate knowing that someone looks down on me because of my relationship status, whether they actively discriminate against me or just have a negative opinion of it without really knowing anything about it.
Types of Discrimination
Polyamorous folks can face discrimination both socially and legally. Socially, there can be a loss of friends and family. People who you consider good friends can all of a sudden turn their back on you. Family can begin excluding you from family gatherings and holiday parties. They may cite religious and moral reasons for suddenly excluding you, or they may not be able to verbalize a reason. Speaking of religion, you could be excommunicated from your place of worship. For some people, coming out as polyamorous can be isolating.
Legally, you could lose your job, housing, or even custody of your children. Many jobs have a morality clause, which honestly is just a very vague excuse to be able to fire someone. If an employer deems your behavior outside of work as immoral to their standards, you could be let go. Certain cities have housing laws about not having too many unrelated people living in the same house. Though, these types of laws are only going to be enforced if you have someone complaining about your living arrangement. There have also been many cases where ex-spouses or even grandparents have petitioned for child custody and won because of a family living polyamorously (Sheff, 2017). Though the polyamorous community has been making strides in the legal department, specifically in child custody cases, there still needs to be more advocacy for our group.
Ways to Deal with Discrimination
I’ve always been the type who likes to know the reasoning behind why people act in certain ways. I think a big part of dealing with prejudice and discrimination is realizing why people feel that way in the first place. I think the biggest factor is not understanding, which can be annoyingly accompanied by refusing to understand. My partners and I have realized that the people who have the biggest problem with our relationship(s) are the ones who refuse to talk to us about it. They would rather have their own idea of what it is they think we do and ignore us when we try to correct them. I personally had my brother say that he did not care to understand about my relationship, and he has proven to be the biggest troublemaker about it in my whole family. My step-father-in-law just laughed at us and said “I know what swingers are” when we came out to him. And despite trying to explain that we are not swingers, he just dismissed us and told us once again that we were swingers. My boyfriend’s parents refuse to even acknowledge that he is in a relationship with me and refuse to talk about it when he visits them. For us, realizing that these people will not listen or even try to understand and be open has dictated how we go about interacting (or not interacting) with them.
The most common piece of advice I see in poly Facebook groups is that you just have to ignore the discrimination and live your life the way you want. That is all fine and dandy if you are the type of person who can do that! I personally have a very hard time ignoring mean or ignorant comments. However, I’m also not the type to speak up or argue with others. I’m not a fan of confrontation. For those of you who are, that’s another common avenue that people recommend: confront and educate the discriminators.
The thing that I’ve found kind of works for me/us is a kind of extension of ignoring the discriminators: removing yourself from their lives as best you can. In the case of my brother and his wife and kids, I do not reach out to them at all to talk or hang out. My husband and I do not go to family parties at their home because my boyfriend is specifically not invited/allowed in their home. Though we do interact at family parties that take place in other places, I always dread going to them because I’m afraid that something ignorant or mean will be said. In the case of my boyfriend’s parents, he goes alone to visit them every couple of weeks. However, he has decided not to spend holidays with them since they refuse to include me, my husband, and son. In the case of a friend who decided to remove herself from our lives because she said she couldn’t have her children around us, I took further steps to avoid that negativity in my life – I blocked her and her family on social media. I knew if I didn’t that I would get ‘well-meaning’ explanations in my message box of why I should leave this ‘lifestyle,’ as my husband and I did when we first came out to her.
Everyone is going to have a different way of going about this. Some people can completely cut off family members/friends, while others aren’t ready for that big of a step. Some people will continue to spend holidays separately from their partners so that they can still see family, while others will put their foot down and say no to being separated. It all depends on personality and situation.
What Do You Do?
Have you dealt with discrimination or prejudice because of your polyamorous relationship(s)? Are you specifically not ‘out’ because you are scared of facing discrimination? Are you only ‘out’ to certain groups? How do you deal with discrimination when it happens to you and your loved ones?
Sheff, Elisabeth. (2017). “Polyphobia: Anti-Polyamorous Prejudice and Discrimination.” Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-polyamorists-next-door/201707/polyphobia