On New Years Eve I outed myself as a non-monogamous poly atheist to my Facebook followers. I don’t use Facebook very often; last I checked I had a few hundred friends, mostly high school friends and relatives, including Jill’s extended family and my own. I don’t care much for it because every time I log in I find myself confronted with the casual bigotry of acquaintances about whom I really don’t care much, but also because I find it’s the place I’m the least likely to actually be myself.
Especially compared to Twitter. I suspect that my inhibition comes from the fact that I actually know my Facebook friends. That is to say I’ve met almost all of them. I find myself in the same room as many of them on a regular basis. Those who I haven’t actually met are friends (or relatives) of friends (or relatives); thus it’s probable that I will eventually meet most of them. Therefore I am compelled to comport myself in a certain manner during our interactions. And who’s got time for that nonsense? So I use Facebook sparingly.
I mentioned my atheism in passing once before, essentially buried deep within an unrelated status message. Around the same time, I changed my religion to “atheist”, just as a subtle protest against the status quo. But before I did I was so concerned about perception that I initially changed my religion to Scientology and asked a friend whether the change came up in his newsfeed. I rationalized that if anyone noticed and asked questions, I could say it was a joke; the general public would likely be more willing to take my joining Scientology as a joke than they would my being an atheist. Clearly I wasn’t ready to be out.
I’d wanted to out myself for a long time. Years, really, but that far back it was an abstract concept, something like teleportation or flying cars. I was eager to experience it but I knew it wasn’t going to happen. For the last couple months, however, I knew it was something I had to do, just for myself. But it was a daunting task, one that felt like a mountain I had to climb and I wasn’t sure I could actually do it.
The reason for my hesitation was primarily Jill and her social circle. Said circle is an enormous conglomeration of relatives, friends, and co-workers, most of whom are Catholic. Not to mention the potential professional repercussions that could conceivably result. Simply put, I didn’t want to cause problems for my wife. But I realized that I was also concerned about causing problems for other people who mattered to me less: Old high school teachers, casual friends, former neighbors and co-workers. Even my family, many of whom presumably still see me as the baby of the family. (On my father’s side I was the baby until I was sixteen.) I no longer cared to conform to whatever perception of me made them feel comfortable.
Coming out was something I did entirely for myself. I understood most people would probably scroll right past the post; they usually do and that’s part of why I don’t use Facebook much. The site is a vast sea of humblebrags, choreographed self-aggrandizement, and deliberately manufactured drama that reflects real life so distortedly that it may as well be a funhouse mirror. There never seemed to be a need for actual honesty. Thus, I didn’t expect much in the way of a response to my post. I wasn’t showing off, wasn’t whining over some exaggerated tragedy I’d suffered, wasn’t even soliciting comments. Somehow, the idea of my post seemed, for lack of a better term, unmarketable. Much like a combination toilet plunger/nightlight, the general public would have no idea what to do with it.
I drafted the status a week or so before I actually posted it, not certain I’d have the courage to actually see it through. Part of me wanted to hold back because I thought it might seem like the sort of manufactured drama to which I referred earlier. Yes, I knew it wasn’t, but I was still conscious of how it would be perceived. Ultimately I reminded myself that perception didn’t matter; I was posting it because it was what I needed to do for myself. At the end of the day, that’s why I post everything I do, whether it’s a family picture on Facebook or a shot of my cock on Twitter. Positive response is a nice fringe benefit, but like any public expression I think one sets oneself up for disappointment if one’s main concern is how it’s received. Anyway, I’m going to be forty this year. I see no reason to continue pretending.
Using Facebook’s privacy settings, I blocked Jill’s family and friends from seeing the post. I suppose that makes my bravery less than it would have been otherwise. Still, I saw no choice. Jill’s siblings, of whom there are many, are very sexually traditional, at least outwardly so. If they’re really not, then like me they remain concerned with perception. I suspect certain of my siblings-in-law and even cousins-in-law see me in a negative light but remain civil for Jill’s sake; recall an incident in which Jill’s cousin jumped to the conclusion that I was cheating on her. Additionally certain comments made about non-monogamy in the past have led me to believe that the real me wouldn’t be embraced.
To an extent, I understand this. She’s their relative. To some of them, I’m just the guy she married. And that’s okay. Just as some may assume I’m untrustworthy, I assume they can’t handle the truth. As I said, most of them are actively-practicing Catholics, and while I had concerns that my inability to believe as they do could be an issue, my inability to be monogamous almost certainly would be. Socially they’re pretty liberal and I realize they would accept me regardless of my religious beliefs (or lack thereof). But I don’t see my inclination toward non-monogamy or polyamory being as well-received. If Jill was the one coming out as non-monogamous and poly, that’d be one thing. She’s their blood. But the spouse of their daughter, their sister, their cousin coming out, even with her full support? I don’t see them being okay with that, much less congratulating me on my courage.
Maybe they would. I have no way of knowing because this isn’t something we as a society are able to discuss. Non-monogamy is the last big sexual taboo, I think. The best-case scenario, as I see it, involves a lot of awkwardness. Because I don’t see my coming out inspiring any of Jill’s relatives or close friends to do the same. Instead I see it causing a rift between me and them, and almost certainly between her and them as well. And who wants that?
So to play it safe, and because I think it’s what Jill wanted, I blocked anyone who knew her before they knew me. Those who’ve known me the longest – immediate family, friends going back to high school or even elementary school, and the like – can hopefully see that I’m the same person I’ve always been. This new information doesn’t change me any, or at least it shouldn’t. If someone has twenty or thirty years of friendship with me and can’t get over the fact that I’m a non-monogamous poly atheist, that’s cool. They’ll be happier being friends with someone else.
I had to warn Jill not to like or comment on the post, because in theory friends or family members whom I hadn’t blocked, i.e. people with whom I’m not Facebook friends, might be able to see her activity in the sidebar ticker thing. This security measure brought with it a problem of its own, however: What if someone asked why Jill hadn’t commented on my post? The implication was that I’d blocked her from seeing it. I figured I’d deal with that if and when it came up.
New Year’s Eve saw us running a few errands; I spent that time mentally preparing myself. I perfected the wording of the post, changing it a few times until I felt it was just right. If every single word wasn’t just so, I might use that to justify someone judging me, unfriending me, or otherwise reacting negatively. Yes, I realize this is ludicrous. But that’s how my mind sometimes works.
I also worried that the status message would seem like deliberately manufactured drama, the sort of thing someone might post when in need of attention. One need only do a Google Image Search for “attention whore meme” to see that the truly shiftless and creativity-bereft among us only find their muse when someone on social media posts something that they deem desperate or attention-seeking.
And while that shouldn’t dissuade me in the least, I know that I sometimes find such attention-seeking statuses annoying. I didn’t want to come off as desperate for attention, so I made it clear that I didn’t require (or even desire) a reply. I said that I was posting it for myself, and not for the approval of anyone else. I said that I didn’t care about judgment, which I hoped would keep the batshit crazy fire-and-brimstone crowd away. I acknowledge that some sanctimonious, foaming-at-the-mouth religious nut threatening me with eternal damnation in a Hell I’m pretty sure doesn’t exist wouldn’t have discouraged me, but still – who wants their raw, balls-out revelation to be met with that kind of negativity? I am more than happy with the silent judgment of pretty much anyone.
Actually, for the briefest of instants, the thought of some obscure association voicing their disapproval was exciting. The thought of self-righteously unfriending such a person – or better still voicing my friendship for him or her in full view of the general public despite his or her disapproval, gave me good feelings. Perhaps there is something to be said of turning the other cheek. I wondered who, if anyone, would be so bold.
The moments before I hit post, when the words had been pasted into the status window, were the longest and most tense ones I’ve ever experienced. My heart beat furiously. I was really going to do this. I pressed the button, and the surge of excitement I felt was palpable. I turned off my laptop and put my phone down, lest I keep checking for a response from someone, anyone, just to confirm that I had indeed just put myself on display for the world at large. Besides my wife’s family and friends, of course.
As the minutes passed, the raw excitement gave way to a feeling best described as headiness. I had really done it. I decided to stay offline for the rest of the night, not just to keep myself from checking for comments, but to remind myself that I hadn’t really wanted any in the first place. Like I said, I wasn’t expecting any response. What little I post that can be described as “mainstream” gets little feedback.
Before long, though, my post got some traction. People were reading it. They were liking and commenting. The first comment came from a well-meaning relative whose response seemed to betray that she hadn’t actually read it. It was more of a quick and easy platitude than it was the sort of comment one might make upon learning something so radical, so counterculture, from a close relative. But I didn’t mind; I was just glad – perhaps relieved – that the first comment didn’t portray me as a servant of the Devil.
Then my cousin replied. She’s religious and somewhat conservative, having been raised by fundamentalist Christian parents. Despite this, we’re close, she and I. And our kids are close. Though they live far away, we’ve seen them four times in the past year. I can admit that it was her reaction about which I was most worried; I would hate to ruin the close relationship shared by our two families, though I acknowledged beforehand that if her reaction to who I really am ruined anything it’s her fault, not mine.
My cousin didn’t in any way address my being an atheist, being polyamorous, or being an non-monogamous. She just said she loves me. Which could be the best response I could have expected, when you think of it. Whatever she thinks of the revelation in my post, if she even understands it beyond the word “atheist” – because what religious person doesn’t know the meaning of that word? – she wanted me to know that it in no way changes our relationship.
Other comments followed. All were positive. I received well wishes and encouragement from close friends I’ve known for decades, as well as from more casual acquaintances I’ve known a fraction as long. Some people I know to be conservative on some issues, and with whom I have little in common, said wonderful, heartfelt things. I understand that some of those who liked or commented on the post probably don’t even understand what “poly” means – polyunsaturated fat? Polycarbonate tubing? Polly want a cracker? – but they offered support nonetheless. Maybe some who didn’t know got off their asses and Googled it, to see what the hell it was, exactly, that I felt compelled to share. Maybe others only recognized the word “atheist”. Either way, they weren’t judging me for it. Not publicly, anyway.
And those who were, those who felt like this revelation was TMI, or somehow a betrayal of who they thought I was, those trapped in long-term monogamous relationships who now had a reason to envy or even dislike me, or perhaps the latest of many reasons? These people were content to hate me offline. Which means that even if they disapproved, they didn’t want to alienate me by saying so.
Much like my cousin, a few commenters didn’t directly reference either of the three newly-revealed aspects of my self, but they wished me a Happy New Year or something similarly positive. Some voiced their support or pledged their friendship – or even love – regardless of what I had to share. They may not have understood or been able to process it – they may not have even condoned it, necessarily – but they wanted to say something good, and it was appreciated.
My mother said she loved me in the comment thread. Then she texted me to see if there had been any backlash from Jill regarding the post. My mom had an inkling of my leanings, but she didn’t know Jill was aware.
Over the next couple days there was much congratulation from my friends. Male or female, young or old, religious or not, LGBT or otherwise, they welcomed me out and generally had a lot of supportive things to say. This is not to say that most of my friends have liked or commented on the post, but those who did have been overwhelmingly encouraging. A fairly close guy friend said he was proud of me. A couple Facebook friends who we first got to know on Twitter were especially excited for me, and in at least one case envious. I don’t recall experiencing quite this level of across-the-board approval since I presented my infant daughter, Rafiki-like, to the world years ago. I felt accepted, but more than anything I felt happy to be able to be me.
The thread currently stands at more than fifty comments, and one of my favorites is from our friend S. Remember her? She asked if Jill knows. She was asking with tongue firmly in cheek, obviously, but I still addressed it for the benefit of anyone who might not have known that. In fact, I commented that she already knew the answer to her question. (Jill, S, our other friend who’s been referred to as M, my CPFFB*, and a close male friend/drinking buddy were aware of my intention to post beforehand.) It was nice not to have to be shy about it or otherwise pretend. While the freedom I felt and continue to feel is nowhere close to the freedom I feel on this blog or on Twitter – and probably shouldn’t be – it still makes me think of Facebook in a better light than I did prevously. Well, my participation therein, anyway.
Silence speaks louder than words, however. I can admit that I’m concerned about the lack of response from certain friends who generally comment on the stuff I occasionally post. I’m not sure why I’m concerned, especially since I wasn’t expecting anyone to comment. But now that some have commented, I wonder why others have not. I know I shouldn’t care, but I’m hoping that their lack of reply is due to them having missed the post or not knowing what to say than any outright disapproval. After all, if some people voiced their support, why didn’t others? Maybe I’m just being greedy for positive feedback.
This is an unrealistic expectation, of course; some people are bound to think it’s weird or even distasteful. That’s all but inevitable. That the response was as favorable as it has been thusfar is where my focus should be. People have their reasons to comment either way. Whether or not they’re judging me for who I am, I can’t judge them.
I’m out, and it feels good. To everyone on Twitter who voiced their support, I appreciate it more than I have the words to say. Yes, that includes all the bi guys who sent direct messages asking for clarification when I said I was “out”. Flattered, guys. As always.
*Currently Platonic Former Flirt Buddy