'I'm Bisexual and Non-Monogamous'

I didn't come out to myself, or anyone else, until I was in my early 20s. I am queer and always have been queer but I was raised in a world that assumed my heterosexuality, so it took a lot of time to think of myself as anything beyond that.

I identify with both bisexuality and pansexuality, but because I do have romantic and sexual attraction to people who are the opposite sex to me, I kind of fumbled through my teenage years. It was OK to fancy boys openly, and so I did and they were the people I dated and had sex with. It's only on reflection that I realize quite how many queer experiences I had as a teenager; from making out with and sleeping with women to all sorts of nuances beyond that. But they were going pretty much unacknowledged by me and the other people I was interacting with.

I didn't grow up in a space that was actively queerphobic or homophobic; my parents are very warm and welcoming people. But throughout my childhood and teenage years I can't think of a single bisexual character who wasn't demonized or oversexualized. I didn't hear the term non-binary until I was 20 and I never heard the word consent in my sexual education growing up.

My sibling, who is also queer, and I have a fun game of looking back at our childhood and discussing moments where neither of us realized we were queer. I remember wanting to be smooshed in between Hercules and his wife Meg, and that my crush on Meg was actually bigger.

Exploring bisexuality and queerness

When I was 22, I started volunteering for the U.K. sexual health charity Brook and had to fill out a bunch of paperwork. In one section, they had listed the options for sexuality in alphabetical order. It was the first time I had seen bisexual on a form above heterosexual. Normally, it felt like the forms were set out to say, "Obviously you're straight, but if not, tick one of the other "weird" ones." That form showed me I could see myself in a different way. But when I spoke to a friend about it later in the day, she challenged my saying I was bisexual, saying that I hadn't had a girlfriend before.

I like telling that story because I can give examples of the first time I went on a date with a woman or non-binary person, or slept with a woman, but actually my identity is not solely tied to my actions. I was bisexual and queer before I dated and had sex with anyone of any gender.

I started seeing myself in a different way and seeing the queer community as something I was not allied to but part of, and began dating women and non-binary people and really enjoyed it. I don't think it came as a massive surprise to people and I wasn't met with resistance, which was really nice.

The first couple of years there was a newness to the way I was dating. It was me being different, so whoever I was dating I felt different. But I think I felt a lot of pressure for sleeping with women and non-binary people to be amazing straight away. There can be a bit of presumption that once you have a bit of an understanding about your sexuality, sex is going to be really easy and straightforward, and it's not. Dating is rarely easy and straightforward. I had been so used to sleeping with cisgender men for years, so it was really interesting to get used to my body against someone else's. There was a lot of vulnerability there, but a lot of people I was dating were kind of in the same boat, so we were able to figure stuff out together.

I think of myself as queer more than anything else, because it's an umbrella term that a lot of things fall under. There was a lot of beauty in walking into a queer space as a person newly celebrating their sexuality and feeling that sense of being at home.

It was a time of massive self discovery, and when you're questioning one part of your identity it's quite easy for that to spill over into other parts of your identity as well. I was exploring queer communities and meeting people who were non-monogamous and polyamorous and it was really nice to see people who were doing relationships differently to the way I had been raised to think of them.

Discovering polyamory and non-monogamy

In the summer of 2016, I started dating a really lovely guy who was polyamorous. I had to look up what it meant and thought it looked interesting. It was really through him, meeting some of his other partners and starting to read and think about different ways of doing relationships that I discovered this for myself. I remember going over to his house when he had just moved in with one of his partners and asking how it felt and what it was like.

Bisexuality and non-monogamy share a lot of the same negative stereotypes, like being greedy, indecisive, not able to commit or being a sl*t. For me personally, non-monogamy has been lovely for lots of reasons, but it has enabled my queerness to be an active part of my life because I am dating people of different genders at different times. It works for me, but that's not to say it works for everyone.

I had a couple of years of dating in a non-monogamous way. These were really committed connections, but a bit more casual. Then, about four years ago, I met my nesting partner. I don't use the term primary partner because I think it can imply this person has more importance and value, but my nesting partner and I live together and have built a little nest.

This was the first time I'd started a long term relationship that was non-monogamous from the very beginning. I have opened relationships from monogamous to non-monogamous in the past, and while it can work, it can be pretty challenging.

The main thing my nesting partner and I have is a real emphasis on communicating. There are no set rules for how we navigate other partners; we communicate and take things as they come. We had lots of conversations at the beginning about what the relationship would look like and most of it was about curiosity and not putting harsh rules on ourselves and other people.

Ruby Rare is bisexual and non-monogamous
Ruby Rare is a sex educator and has been practicing non-monogamy for six years. Broccoli Productions

One perception of non-monogamy is that there is a couple and then they casually date around that couple. For me, it's about building a community. It's not just about people I'm having romantic and sexual connections with. Some of the most important people in my life are the platonic connections I have made with people who are also non-monogamous. Having people in my life who are also non-monogamous and different to me in similar ways, and really feeling seen and accepted through them is super important. So it's not just about dating and having sex, it's also about connecting with people in this community in other ways. Each situation does really feel different. It's a much more fluid thing.

Kitchen table polyamory and fluid non-monogamy

The best way to describe it is the term "kitchen table polyamory." It's not forced, we're not happy campers around the campfire singing, but I know and am friendly or friends with my partner's partners and they know each other as well. Over the years, that has become really important to me.

We can build up so much fear and worry about people when they are hypotheticals in our head and when we're in a room with them we realize they are humans and so are we. For me, that's been really wonderful. Having friendship as the foundation of all these interactions, with other wonderful stuff woven in as well. When relationships change, and I stop dating someone, it's less about a big dramatic break up and more about the relationship shifting.

As much as I would love to have ten amazing, committed relationships in my life, I don't have the time. I have a job, friends and family and I have to do my laundry! I currently have a handful of really special people in my life and the way I interact with them is time sensitive. I'm quite introverted and I need time to myself.

While I adore my nesting partner and think they do me as well, that relationship will evolve and change. There isn't a rigidity of "this is my main person and anyone else beyond that is secondary." It's that we're choosing to spend a lot of time together and merge some finances. But it's not to say that's how it will always be.

Ruby Rare is bisexual and non-monogamous
Podcast host and author Ruby Rare identifies as bisexual and pansexual and is non-monogamous. Sophie Cunningham

I'm not against hierarchical polyamory because it works for other people, but I find it more useful to think about my non-monogamy through the ways I interact with people and the time I share with them. That can look quite different but it doesn't mean that because I'm spending less time with someone, it makes them less important.

I don't experience jealousy any more than someone in a monogamous relationship would. I think we put so much emphasis on jealousy in sex and romance. The areas I feel the most jealousy in are professional ones; when seeing that someone else has gotten a project I can get a pang of jealousy before feeling proud of them.

Way back in the past there have been big moments of feeling jealous, but really what was beneath that was insecurity. I didn't know where I stood. I'm quite good now at communicating what I need and knowing that in order for non-monogamy to happen, I need to feel really secure and grounded in the connections I have in my life, and the other people in my life need to feel that too.

I'm 28 now and I think it's fairly likely that the rest of my life will include some form of non-monogamy, I can't answer for myself in the future but to feel really committed to people and relationships within non-monogamy is really exciting, and I'm curious to see how that will evolve as I get older.

I'm not anti-monogamy, but it's great to have variety and options. Non-monogamous relationships have been around for many years in different forms, and while we're not where we need to be yet in terms of it being seen as fully socially acceptable, a lot more people are aware of non-monogamy and polyamory and aren't meeting it with complete resistance. I think that's really exciting. For the past year, the main thing I have been working on is a podcast that talks about sex, relationships and bodies and does that speaking from within communities, starting from on my own personal and professional experiences and then broadening out.

I would like to see less resistance to non-monogamy. It confuses me that people feel aggressively against something when realistically, it touches very little of their life.

So I'd like there to be less judgment about non-monogamy and more curiosity, and that goes for people in the community as well as outside, because it can be easy to think of the way you do non-monogamy to be more acceptable than someone else's way. I'd like people to learn that there is not one type of non-monogamy, there are as many ways to do relationships as there are relationships and none of our relationships are the same. I think that's really exciting and a wonderful thing to focus on.

Ruby Rare is a sex educator, author and host of In Touch with Ruby Rare, a new podcast exploring sex and sexuality. You can follow her on Instagram @rubyrare

All views expressed in this article are the author's own.

As told to Jenny Haward.