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The Big Reveal: Sex, marriage and multi-love

Monday 29th January 2018

My parents had only known me to date women, until one recent dinner.

 

Illustration of locket with photos of three people - two women and a man.

Illustration: Pinky Fang

When my family gets together for dinner, there’s never a shortage of hilarious stories interlaced with the latest family updates. I don't imagine this is anything out of the ordinary, other than the fact that my family dinners involve three queer women (sorry mum, I know you don’t like labels).

The last time we were here - at mum’s favourite restaurant - I had a partner sitting beside me but much has changed since then. 

Our conversation, for the most part, is a friendly critique of the new decor, it’s a welcome distraction from a list of topics I’m hoping we can avoid.

In between the chatter about light fittings and a change in menu my step mum updates me on the most recent happenings in their lives, relevant to her story she refers to us all, in passing, as lesbians.

In between the chatter about light fittings and a change in menu my step mum updates me on the most recent happenings in their lives, relevant to her story she refers to us all, in passing, as lesbians.

“Oh, I’m not a lesbian …” I pause before feeling the need to clarify, “… I date men too”.

After the waitress takes our orders, we hang in that moment that exists between surveying a menu and the food arriving, our hands reaching for something to occupy them in the meantime.

“What do you mean you’re not a lesbian?!”

My parents have only known me to date women, other than that one time I dated a guy in high school. I can only imagine how pleased my mum was that it was a fleeting romance, he wasn’t exactly the kind of guy you bring home to meet the parents, something I learned quickly and perhaps, unfortunately, after the fact.

“It’s not as though you or I have never been with men before” mum - who was married to my dad for 25 years - threw out across the table. It landed, as her quick-witted remarks often do, to the sound of roaring laughter.

My mum hadn’t yet started dating women when I came out to her as a teenager. Those first years were far from easy, with both of us trying to navigate our own identities at different stages in life - she’d just ended a relationship that she’d been in her whole adult life and I’d just begun dating a girl from school. My unreserved affection toward my girlfriend took her a bit of getting used to.

The events that led us to where we are now, two openly queer women comfortable in our identities, is a bit of a complicated one - but that’s another story in itself.

My step mum paused and looked at me the way she always does when there’s something she’s curious about. In a soft, gentle tone that she reserves for serious conversations, she said.  ‘Hey… can I ask you…’

Mum was quick to cut her off.

We chat about the concept of marriage - more my influence than theirs but they are always happy to listen to my thoughts, our differing views keep things interesting.

‘Oh, you wanted to ask about sex…’ I say, noticing my mum shifting ever so slightly in her seat. That look couples sometimes give each other when one of them is about to say something the other one disapproves of - that was the look my mum was giving my step mum.

“But you want children, right?” Mum is also always quick to change the subject.

I had always just assumed that being queer would get me off the hook for this one; maybe because the first thing my dad said to me when I told him was “at least you can’t get pregnant”. Or fact that my brother already has children - surely that meant that I’d automatically be pardoned from child baring duties?

“Marriage?”

I’m not a fan. We’ve talked about this before but I’m guessing because I’m getting older they thought my views might have changed somewhat. They’ve not.

I think she was less cut up about this one. Having young ones to fuss over definitely trumps having to find something to wear to a wedding. Again, a milestone my older brother has already reached.

We chat about the concept of marriage - more my influence than theirs but they are always happy to listen to my thoughts, our differing views keep things interesting.

Six years earlier I had walked my mum down the aisle. She’s definitely much more traditional and conservative than I am.

I make the observation that marriages don’t often last “until death do us part” and that perhaps we need to rethink things a little, that the way society values some relationships over others, in my opinion, needs to shift.

“This is why I think consensual non-monogamy works…”

The words fell from my lips before I could register where I was and who I was talking to.

“You know …” I say , acutely aware that I’m about to tell them something I hadn’t planned on ever telling them.

I brushed over the majority of the details, aware that there was probably only so much they could handle in one sitting.

“ (ex-partner) and I were in an open relationship for the last year of our relationship…”

My words stiff in the thick summer air.

My step mum looked up from her plate and gave us her thoughts on the new summer menu. Mum and I looked at each other.

“You didn’t hear her, did you?”

Laughter took the edge off and reminded me to breathe.

‘I was just telling mum how (insert ex here) and I had been in an open relationship for the past year…’

I was interrupted by our waitress, who had come to check in on the evening’s festivities. Our laughter a welcome invitation, I’m sure. I suggested a beer might be in order.

I continued where I left off. I told my parents that my ex-partner and I had both been dating people outside our relationship since the beginning of the year. That my ex partner is now in a relationship with a man that she had been seeing for pretty much that whole time. He is married with children I told them, quickly adding that he too is polyamorous. I had met him a number of times but wasn’t much of a fan I said.

They glance across at each other somewhat in disbelief. I was preparing for a flood of questions, possibly some tears, or at least something to that effect.

It’s the guy in the photo isn’t it? mum asked.

Intermission was spent scrolling through Facebook to confirm her hunch.

Once confirmed I continued. She is also seeing a woman, although I wasn’t sure what their dynamic was and wasn’t really interested in knowing I told them, it was none of my business now.

They asked about me and whether this was the reason for our breakup. I told them an edited version of events. A series of very brief anecdotes that skipped over anything of real weight. I told them that I’d dated throughout the year, mostly men but no one that I really connected with.

I brushed over the majority of the details, aware that there was probably only so much they could handle in one sitting. There was also only so much I wanted to share with them and things that I probably never will.

I told them nearing the end of my relationship I finally met someone I really connected with. I attempted to rein in my swooning.

“Is that who we said hello to in the video message?” Mum says, she always did pay attention to the little things.

I’d like you to meet her, I told my parents. She’s non-binary and is polyamorous - information that isn’t very relevant in most conversations but this wasn’t exactly a standard conversation. I explained that they use both she/her and they/them pronouns and wanted to acknowledge their identity sits outside of the gender binary, even if I was using female pronouns.

We talked about relationship dynamics, the importance of good communication, jealousy, connection and the future. I told them that I wasn’t looking to rush into another serious relationship at this stage in my life and that I was very happy taking things at a pace I was comfortable with.

Everything is a constant process of learning, I said, I’m still working out the kind of relationship dynamic that works best for me. I added that although this is how things are at this stage in my life, it doesn’t mean that I won’t be in a monogamous relationship in the future. Nothing is ever fixed, a bit like gender and sexuality I tell them.

As my stepmum settles the bill I take the opportunity to check in with my mum, aware of just how much I’ve told them over the course of the night. Aware of how difficult this must be for her to hear.

She leans in to me and says: “You know honey, although we may never understand, we both just want you to be happy and safe.”

* The author of this story has chosen to remain anonymous to protect the privacy of her parents.



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