I am fortunate to live in Toronto, one of North America’s most progressive cities which embrace LGBTQ culture.
In June, the city truly comes alive with the celebration of Pride Month. Everywhere is awash in colour and the city is abuzz with an electric energy and excitement, culminating at the end of the month with the annual Pride Parade.
There is no bombastic celebration this year, due to COVID-19, so I’m left to reflect on my previous experiences at Pride; one such observation from last year’s festivities runs contrary to Pride’s message of inclusivity and acceptance.
There are several groups that march in the parade, from Dykes on Bikes to PFLAG—Parents, Families and Friends of Lesbians and Gays. These groups are large in number, and their presence depicts an accurate microcosm of the represented community.
But I was struck by the woefully small size of one of the groups included in the march: the polyamorous community. Their group comprised of only a handful of representatives at the Pride Parade; less than ten, if I recall. And all were White.
Though I am in a monogamous relationship, my partner and I have expressed interest in exploring what a polyamorous relationship has to offer (hence our frequent jaunts to Oasis Aqualounge, Toronto’s adult alternative lifestyle nightclub).
But in our exploits, it soon became apparent that the space was noticeably, predominantly Caucasian. We are an interracial couple; I’m Black and he’s White. As we fraternized with other couples, there was many an occasion that I was made aware of my otherness; that the colour of my skin was either seen as a deterrent or as something to be fetishized.
Statistics are typically a sticky thing to hammer down when it comes to the poly community. People may choose to not openly divulge their involvement in non-monogamous relationships, as polyamory is still considered a taboo practice in North American culture.
According to an Ipsos survey, only 4% of Canadians describe themselves as polyamorous, or in an open relationship. Of that sample size, less than 1% identified as Black.
I think back to why there is such a dearth in the visual representation of people of colour within the community; the answer is multi-faceted. It would be simple to explain it away as the poly community being cliquish in nature, excluding those who don’t fit a certain look or social status.
But there are other, more subtle reasons. There is a deep religious undercurrent within the Black community. The major religions—Christianity, Judaism, Islam—discourage the practice of polyamory and those that identify as religious may feel conflicted in joining the community.
Still, there may be other factors at play that prevent the participation of Black people in the poly community. This is not a sweeping generalization that applies to all men within the community, but there is a latent strain of toxic masculinity that runs beneath the surface. There are some bad apples that come into polyamory with a sense of entitlement. They view it as a veritable smorgasbord; by extension, the women—especially marginalized women of colour—are seen as an exotic commodity in which to partake.
Case in point: my partner and I attended a poly meetup in 2019 at a small bar in downtown Toronto. What started as a nice night out quickly morphed into a rescue mission. At the end of the night, we physically had put ourselves between an older White man and a young Black woman, as the woman was forced to hide out in the bathroom due to his unwanted, sexual advances.
If Black people, especially Black women, entering this space are met with indifference or sexual hostility, it makes sense why our numbers in the poly community would be so low.
Perhaps the most insidious reason for the lack of Black people in the poly community is the case of social segregation; if a Black person goes to an event where everyone else is only attracted to people who look like them (read: White people), then they may feel like they’re wasting their time. There are anecdotal accounts online of Black people attending poly events and being the first to leave, as they were not made to feel welcome.
George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the police, as well as the ensuing protests, have highlighted the existence of racial inequality in our society. Therefore, it cannot be overstated the impact race plays in determining acceptance from the larger, predominantly White poly community.
Polyamory in North America is portrayed as an environment for the white and wealthy, and in the process, it has become a virtually homogenous space that meets other racial groups with tacit macroaggression.
The solution? There needs to be more of an effort made by the poly community to be welcoming of its Black members.
“Representation has to be the job of all the White folks organizing these groups.” Says Daniel Krager, an advocate for making sure that Black people feel more welcome at poly events.
The polyamory community has a long way to go to portray itself as an accommodating and welcoming alternative lifestyle. Either a dialogue needs to be opened to invite more people of color into predominantly White events, or groups need to be made which comprise of Black poly people so that the expansion of a safe space can be created within the community. For that to happen, true change has to come from within to bravely address the lack of diversity from groups without.