This past Sunday, HBO’s Insecure explored a taboo topic in the Black community: open and nonmongamous relationships.
Molly, played by Yvonne Orji, was quite surprised, like most of us, when her high school friend, Dro, revealed the he and his wife, Candice, were in an open marriage. For Dro, “It’s a lot of pressure to be all things to one person.
“People need to figure out what works for them and this works for us,” he continues.
Dro couldn’t be more right.
However, for many people – lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight – the idea of a “perfect relationship” usually consists of only one other person in a purely romantic/sexual way. At a very early age, we are conditioned to believe that relationships look like one person loving another individual for an eternity. Anything else is deemed a failure, or at least something not fundamentally rooted in tradition.
But if life has taught us anything, it is that what has been imparted can be un-learned and it is time for Black people – especially those in the queer community – to explore what healthy relationships look like for us, and under our own terms.
Monogamy, as it is often referred, is a practice where one individual has only one partner at any one time. It is usually the only form of relationship that many of us even consider because it is perceived as more practical, less expensive, and more loving. However, as time has passed and we have been forced to interrogate the “why’s” of interpersonal relationships, many are beginning to think through the concept of alternative relationships – that is, nonmonogamous, non-traditional decoupling.
This interrogation has continuously revealed the societal infatuation with exclusively one-on-one sexual and romantic monogamous relationships happen less because of practicality and more because we are afraid to explore what alternative forms of relationships look like in our individual lives. And, many of us are terrified to explore what that means about our own interests and desires, and what people will say about them.
That is likely because our familial structures usually set the tone for how we define relationships — it is often where we learn intimacy, bonding, loyalty, and commitment. For many people living in traditional two-parent households, it became clear at an early age what the concept of love looked like for them.
Although I understood love in a practical way, it did not escape me that I never particularly gathered the concept of monogamous love because I was raised by a single mother. I went to other avenues to search for this concept of monogamous commitment, usually through television and films. Philip and Vivian Banks from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Heathcliff (not “Bill Cosby”) and Claire Huxtable from The Cosby Show, and Carl and Harriet Winslow from Family Matters all taught me about Black Love. Even the adoration of Steve Urkel and Laura Winslow at an extremely young age painted vivid imagery related to first crushes with only one other person.
But it also did not escape me that the images depicted were heterosexual relationships which certainly provided no help for this Black queer boy. Although I did not fully come into my sexuality until many years later, I recognized I was different from many young people. And I recognized part of that difference was understanding that the family I wanted to build would not consist of a traditional two-person (one man, one woman) household. Considering that Black queer people are forced to acquiesce to standards and norms that may run afoul with our beliefs, what does not having a template for our relationships mean for our future?
A lot, I would surmise.
Black queer people live within hetero-centric norms. We are told that the way to live as a straight person would, with no conception that we are simply different. It’s the same reason many have attempted to push a “we are more alike than we are different” model. Being queer is not merely about sexual orientation, gender expression, and gender identity but about removing rigid sexuality and gender-based practices from our everyday lives. When we are raised, we are raised straight, when we learn about sex, we learn about it as “boys having sex with girls,” and when we learn about raising a family, we learn about it from the concept of husband and wife. Rarely do we receive an opportunity to question these norms and traditions, such as two-person coupling.
Everyone should be able to explore life outside of those traditions. This is a difficult concept because being in an alternative relationship flies in the face of everything we have learned about love, commitment, and loyalty, but it is one that should not be rejected because it feels uncomfortable. For some, nonmonogamous relationships can conjure up images of swingers, free for all’s, and “throw your keys in the bowl” parties (and it very well could be) but there are definite terms for those who decide to enter an alternative relationship.
I have often asked people of their turning point for when they knew a two-person commitment was for them. The answers range from “it just feels better” to “I’m too jealous.”
Truth is: it feels better because society has forced us to believe that it is natural and everything else is toxic. To be clear, we are told that if we ever have more than one sexual partner at any one time, then we are unworthy of love. Better said, people who explore sex outside of one person are called a “hoe” for doing what may feel natural or what may please their own individual bodies. And queer people are no stranger to this. Our bodies are policed by laws, policies, regulations, police officers, and people – so for many, this is merely part for the course.
In exploring non-traditional relationships, perhaps some will determine that it is not for them – and that is perfectly fine. We all deserve the time to self-evaluate our body politic. The problem is rejecting something as moral turpitude because social construction has made us believe that it is not for us.
On Sunday’s Insecure, Molly was wrong: nonmonagomy is not just for white people; Black people have been understanding what works best for them, and in unique ways. So in the end, we need to do what is best for us, our partner(s), and our bodies. It’s time to have these difficult conversations.
Preston Mitchum is a Washington, DC-based writer, activist, and policy nerd. He is a regular contributor with theGrio and The Root and has written for the Atlantic, Slate, Think Progress, OUT Magazine, Ebony.com, and Huffington Post. Follow him on Twitter here to see just how much he appreciates intersectionality.