A Personal Polyamorous Journey

A Personal Polyamorous Journey

Esther lemmens head shot square

“The Relationship” is put on a pedestal and if you don’t have that, or aim for that, you’re basically a fucking failure as a human, which is unfair and untrue and bullshit!”

Meet Esther, the genius behind the Fifty Shades of Gender podcast and all-round amazing human being. Esther’s pronouns are she and her.

Following on from last month’s article about Lor and his journey through life as an intersex person, today we meet Esther. Here she shares her candid first steps into polyamory. She also dispels 5 myths about being polyamorous.

Identity labels

Esther identifies as “cisqueer, pansexual, solo polyam”. Let’s unpack these terms one by one.

Cisqueer is such a delicious term, and one that Esther introduced me to. She really relates to the word “queer” as it can be applied to sexuality, attraction, identity, and presentation. When she started her incredible podcast, she adopted cisqueer as a more nuanced and authentic clarification of who she feels she is. It demonstrates her more unconventional approach to gender and her general rejection of heteronormative standards around gender, sexuality, and relationships. Cisqueer is a label she’s enjoying and is open to it evolving in the future. Personally, for what it’s worth, I feel it really suits her.

“Part of my thinking process is that, in my identity, I don’t see personality traits as masculine or feminine. Why does it have to be gendered? Why is nourishing a feminine quality and being a go-getter a masculine quality?”

Queer is a label that Esther felt she had to ease into, often questioning if she was queer enough. Ironically, if you’re feeling insecure and wondering if you are sufficiently queer to use the term, then those feelings are usually clear indications that you are, in fact, queer. To her, queer means unconventional, rebellious, and rejecting of social, sexual, and relationship norms. In her words, “fuck this, fuck that, and fuck that even harder!”

Pansexual is a term that Esther has grown into over the past few years. When she was younger she identified as cishet (cisgender and heterosexual) as that was the norm and she didn’t question it (as very few of us did). In her teens, she occasionally felt attracted to women, so then wondered if she might be bi, even though this didn’t happen very often.

Until 2006, she didn’t really have a relationship with a woman, and about 8 years ago, Esther met her current partner, who is transgender and non-binary. Although she was quick to acknowledge that you don’t have to change your labels depending on who you date, this did encouraged her to go looking for a new label to self-apply. Her partner suggested pansexual, as it refers to people being attracted to other people regardless of gender, identity, or sex (learn more here) and she liked it.

“Pansexual, to me, means human-sexual; being attracted to a person as a whole, who can be male, female, or anything in-between or outside of the binary.”

Polyam is the relationship structure that Esther is most comfortable with. At the moment, Esther feels solo polyam works well as a label as it describes her current relationships. This means she has multiple relationships but doesn’t live with either of the people she is with, hence the solo part of solo polyam. However, she was candid about the fact that this label may change in the future, depending on how her current relationships unfold.

Why polyamory?

“You need to be open and you need to communicate well and you need to be self aware, because it will trigger all of your shit.” 

Categorically, Esther has never wanted kids or to get married, and prefers living on her own. She’s never felt broody or looked at kids with a sense of longing.

When she was younger, although everyone around her seemed to be pairing off into closed monogamous relationships, very few seemed to be really happy and to enjoy their relationship. So monogamy was her default choice only because there was apparently no alternative.

Esther feels there’s far too much pressure and expectation put on monogamous romantic relationships in today’s society. It’s seen as the ultimate life goal, with your single ‘significant other’ fulfilling all your romantic and intimate needs.

“The Relationship” (as in a cishet monogamous one following the conventional ‘relationship escalator’) is put on a pedestal and if you don’t have that, or aim for that, you’re basically a fucking failure as a human, which is unfair and untrue and bullshit!

People should be free to design their own life and relationships, and do their own thing in their own way.”

Esther's relationship history

Most of Esther’s earlier relationships were monogamous with cishet men. In 2006, Esther was in a throuple with a man and a woman. Although it had its good moments, it was also difficult and frustrating as Esther felt she wasn’t getting what she needed. In hindsight, she can see that what both she and the other woman wanted was a close triad, but what he wanted was a V with him as the apex. She realises now they really had no idea what they were letting themselves in for and communication left a lot to be desired.

Currently, Esther is in two relationships; one with her partner, who she has been with for 8 years and has evolved into a queerplatonic polyam partnership (QPP). The second person she refers to as her “squish” (although a squish is ‘officially’ a platonic crush, they like the term and for them it includes attraction types other than platonic). This is a V structure, as although her two people know each other, they are not in a relationship together.

After a few years together, Esther’s partner came out as asexual. At the time, Esther fully supported her partner but she did initially have a problem with the resulting lack of sex and intimacy as that aspect of their relationship fizzled out. Esther’s partner was transitioning and at the time, Esther’s understanding of her partner’s situation was, “if you’re not using it, you’re not going to miss it”. They had previously agreed to an open relationship, although this had been more theoretical than actual.

Something was missing...

However, last year, Esther acknowledged to herself that something was missing; she had lost herself and repressed her sexual and intimate needs in her relationship. She’s done a lot of work to unpack and process her emotional and psychological baggage and past relationship patterns. This made her realise her relationship with her partner wasn’t working in its current configuration.

Very understandably, Esther wanted to bring more sex and pleasure back into her life! She wanted to explore a variety of intimate experiences and not put labels on anything to start with. She discussed this at length with her partner before initiating anything. She also acknowledges that she’s getting increasingly picky as she gets older and doesn’t often feel attracted enough to people to want to be intimate with them. So she wasn’t expecting to find a new playmate so fast.

A few months ago, she started something with someone  she lovingly refers to as her squish, even though their relationship includes more than just platonic affection (a platonic crush). At first, the attraction was very sweet and innocent and platonic, and then the more they got to know each other, the more areas of attraction were lit up. Esther doesn’t see sexual attraction as any more important than any other form, despite what our society wants us to believe.

Esther is currently exploring all forms of attraction with her squish, which is a very emotionally involved relationship, even though they’re choosing not to put other labels on it yet. So, she has no desire to seek out more partners or playmates at the moment as her relationships are as intense and full as she wants.

“There are so many different types of attraction we can feel towards people: platonic, romantic, emotional, sensual, sexual, and many, many more. I feel a combination of attractions for this person, and none of them devalue the others.”

5 myths about being polyam

1. You get to fuck everyone you want.

Maybe, if that’s the agreed dynamic but it’s certainly not a given. Many polyam people are in multiple closed relationships.

2. It’s a way to avoid having real intimate relationships.

Not at all true! Esther explains how it’s quite the opposite, as you have to manage the emotions and expectations of more than one person, which is a substantial responsibility, and one she takes very seriously (as an example, she has checked in with both her partner and her squish about this article, and they are both fine with it).

Being polyam requires a whole new skillset of communication, which Esther recognises as both hugely beneficial and super challenging. Having loads of crap triggered by this new dynamic with her squish has taken a lot of energy to process and it’s been emotional, cathartic, painful, and difficult, as well as extraordinarily wonderful.

3. Being polyam is easier than being monogamous.

Absolutely not true; see point 2. Esther’s the first to admit that she’s new to polyam life and is still finding the balance between being discreet and kind, and being open and honest. But it is certainly not easy.

4. You must have a lot more sex.

Again, not necessarily true. As with mono relationships, it depends on each person’s sex drive, how often you see each other, and what works for the people involved. For Esther, as her partner is asexual, she is still only being physically intimate with one person; her squish.

5. You never feel jealous or insecure.

So so not true. In fact, for many polyam people, the opposite is true. Jealousy and insecurities are multiplied by having more partners. Being polyam doesn’t make you an emotionless robot, but it does force you to address these feelings and find ways to process and manage them. To be successful in your relationships, you have to learn how to have difficult conversations.

Learning through doing

I’m so touched with how frank and vulnerable Esther is when discussing the ups and downs of expanding her relationship structures. She thoughtfully notes that one of the most challenging aspects of being polyam is working out how much to share with each person, so that you’re not keeping secrets but you’re also not bringing the other person into your relationship. Esther says she’s really learning as she goes, feeling into what to say and what not to say. It’s a lot of negotiation and communication. You need to really work out what your needs and wants are, and then learn effective ways to communicate them. This takes being both vulnerable and boundaried.

On the positive side, embracing polyamory has taught her a lot about herself, has been incredibly healing and has made Esther address issues she’s buried for too long. She feels it’s essential for her personal growth and to get her to a point where she can show up in her relationships as she truly wants to, now and in the future.

If you’d support on your personal relationship journey, please get in touch. I’m here to help.