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PRESTON’S PERSPECTIVE:

Black LGBT People Should Be Able to Explore Non-Monogamous Relationships

By Preston Mitchum

Preston Mitchum PHOTOS/John Nelson

Preston Mitchum
PHOTOS/John Nelson

For many people—lesbian, gay, bisexual, or straight—the idea of a “perfect relationship” (if there was ever such a thing) usually consists of only one other person in a purely romantic/sexual way. At a very early age, we were conditioned to believe that relationships look like one person loving another individual for an eternity; anything else was 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 LGBT people 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 during their lifetime 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 and less expensive. 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, non-monogamous, non-traditional decoupling.

 

This interrogation has continuously revealed that the societal infatuation with exclusively one-on-one sexual and romantic monogamous relationships happens 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 often depicted where heterosexual relationships which certainly provided no help for a Black queer boy like me. 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 LGBT people are forced to acquiesce to standards and norms that may run afoul of our beliefs, what does not having a template for our relationships mean for our future? A lot, I would surmise.

 

Black LGBT people live within heteronormative norms—that is, we are told that the way to live is as a straight person with no conception that we are simply different. Being LGBT 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—one such practice is intentional two-person coupling.

 

Black LGBT people 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, the practice of non-monogamous 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 I often receive are “it just feels better.” But the truth is, it feels better because society has forced us to believe that it is the only natural thing. 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 our individual bodies. And LGBT people are no stranger to this. Our bodies are policed by laws, policies, regulations, police officers, and people—so for many, this is merely par for the course.

 

In exploring non-traditional relationships, perhaps some will determine that it is not for them—and that is perfectly fine. The problem is rejecting something as moral turpitude because social construction has made us believe that it is not for us.

 

Do what is best for you, your partner(s), and your bodies. And continue living in your Black LGBT glory.