At my core I still think of myself as a rural queer. It shaped my upbringing, and made me wary of neighbours. It makes me appreciate flamboyant queers in my life now, as they make up for that earlier lack.
Growing up I wanted to be vibrant – flamboyant, theatrical, and interesting.
Like many before me, I faced the quandary of being young and powerless. I had an unaccepting parent (and the other was confused), no queer peers, and no role models to learn from.
I learned to hide my true self for safety's sake.
As with other queers, I quashed my vibrancy. I became another muted person, filed flat to fit in for society's sake. Masking my queerness allowed me to avoid being singled out for scrutiny, or at least made it less frequent.
Thus, neighbours became strangers to be wary of. They could be problematic on their own, or they could report back to my parents about any deviancy I exhibited... Or they could turn out to be accepting.
Yet I learned quickly that spinning that wheel often led to misfortune, not acceptance.
Even simple things like changing my hair to a neon colour started the gossip mill among the adults. You never knew who was watching you, and what speculations they might make based on your actions or appearance.
Then there were other factors that further crushed my desire to be vibrant. Like watching my mother die day by day:
My mother's illness placed immense stress upon all of us in the family. It's difficult to find joy in the moment when facing such a burden, despite my mother's efforts to spread positive cheer throughout.
How could I be vibrant when I was so depressed from such looming death?
Coming from this bleak background, it took a while for me to learn to live on my own terms. To love freely and wholly despite real or imagined backlash from the "neighbours."
"Neighbours" are those acquaintances who have limited influence in your life, often characterised by their penchant to gossip. It's especially problematic when those "neighbours" are distant family who cause turmoil with your closer family.
Growing up in a rural environment, I had few neighbours but plenty of gossip to contend with. That has shaped how I approach queerness, polyamory, and kink alike.
After all, there's the saying from which I draw the title of today's post:
Love is blind, but the neighbours ain't.
What Do the Neighbours Think?
Why would it matter what your neighbours think? A lot of people I know would blithely preach, "Ignore the haters, love as you wish!"
However, that response lacks crucial nuance.
Several people I know are selective about sharing their kinks and queerness because they work with children, could lose their job in a school district, could suffer violence from bigots, or could be retaliated against by their controlling parents.
Furthermore, there's no workplace protections for being polyamorous that I'm aware of, let alone for kink – and oftentimes, coworkers will get especially weird if they notice bruises and turn things into huge problems.
It's safer to be selective, to share these facets only with those people we trust and know will be accepting. Combine that with my rural upbringing, and the end result?
I'm wary of neighbours, so I stay distanced and reserved. I don't let strangers into my life at all, for the off chance that they accidentally learn more than I am willing to share.
Since growing up, I've moved to the city and bought a condo. We have many more neighbours now, especially as we've become involved in the homeowner's association (HOA) politics.
There's always drama happening in the HOA. That's the nature of people, to have minutiae and problems every week.
The day we first moved in, I could see the gears churning away in one neighbour's head when I referred to my dearheart as my "partner."
I had no way of knowing how they'd respond, hence why I chose to use the word. Using "partner" is like raising a queer flag, or posting up a sign for those alert to nuance.
In this case, my neighbour turned out to be all right and accepting. At least, thus far...
Yet every time I meet someone new, I'm putting forth that initial queer signal and rolling the dice to see whether I've run into a bigot or not.
Whether we like it or not, it matters what the neighbours think.
Community, Workmates, and Protections
Neighbours are one place to find community, which is important for queer survival. Queers often have strained or hostile families, which is the first support people tend to turn to.
Without family support, queers turn to other places. Local community, hobby and interest groups, or the internet, for examples. We just want to exist, be happy, and do interesting things.
You can live as you wish, but your choices have consequences when it comes to watchful "neighbours."
Nowhere are the consequences more plain than in the workplace.
There's this ridiculous saying floating around corporations right now about "bringing your authentic self to work," which is mostly about how certain narrow confines of queerness are palatable to the mundanes. It's insulting.
Details of your love life do not belong at work. That part is clear.
Less clear is where our loves lie. For the polyamorous among us, it's probably best that we don't show up at work with our whole selves. Most people will be accepting, but there's the occasional bit of backlash that can come from any direction.
So there's incidental lies we must tell to maintain the masquerade of mundane life. We're pigeonholed into being model minorities.
When I sign into a virtual meeting from my dear lady's place and my teammates notice the change in setting and ask where I'm at, lying feels like the only option. Thus I'm just "visiting family."
I worry about the conversation to be had when she moves in and my coworkers notice her in the backdrop of my life. What lie will I tell then? "She's my roommate," perhaps?
I'd rather be honest about my lovejoy than let fear of reprisal transmute it into scandal.
Even choosing to lie, my coworkers aren't blind. Little things add up, and some may draw conclusions closer to or further from the truth. That in itself is dangerous, because of the major problem of having no protections in the workplace.
Work in the US is tied intrinsically to our livelihoods. Until I hit financial independence, I rely on my employer to survive. Anything that threatens that livelihood is a problem, and there's little I can do to amend that besides hide myself.
I hate those power dynamics, and object to others holding their power over me.
I want control over my life.
Visible Polyamory and Queerness
My stunningly obvious observation? People treat you different when you're a weirdo.
What constitutes a weirdo in another person's eyes depends on their biases. Sometimes it's black goth outfits, a purple mohawk, or a brown leather collar around your throat.
Other times it can be as simple as being read as a queer couple, or being noticed for a polyam arrangement.
I recall the time we were jeered at on the street of a queer city for our trio of hand holding: "ménage à trois!"
When you're strange, bigots feel empowered to "other" you. If you're curious about what that means, then I shall call to your attention this article that delves into othering:
In brief, othering is about dehumanising people. It's a tool of prejudice that allows people to delude themselves with justifications for their abusive behaviours.
Being visibly queer became an act of defiant deviancy in my rural youth.
Yes, I was othered for it. The "neighbours" noticed and talked, I suffered bigoted comments from strangers, was groped, and had pictures taken of me in public by creeps.
I was one of the lucky survivors though, and I endured long enough to find community with other queers.
Being visibly polyam/queer is how we eventually run across others of our kind. Without signalling to each other, we may pass each other by and suffer isolation.
Living On My Own Terms
At several points in my life, I gained enough power to live life closer to my own terms. I don't want to distrust neighbours, I would rather assume them to be accepting until proven otherwise.
I wish to live and love out in the open, and as I grow older I find myself learning to do so.
There is a ways to go still, for even though my family is accepting I have thus far only broached the barest of kink with them. I'm saving the polyam talk for when my dear lady is settled within my household.
Delivering what amounts to an ultimatum update like that to family is the tact I've chosen to approach this problem. Rather than talk about polyam "in theory" with my family, it is better for us to be unassailable and make our boundary clear. It's like saying "This is who we are, we care about you enough to tell you the truth, but it's not a thing we will debate."
Being out and unassailable and proud has its benefits. While the neighbours are not blind, perhaps they too are like me in some way – perhaps they are strange folk on the lookout for community.
I long to build my household of proud weirdos and be surrounded by welcoming community.