Gay Pride for me celebrates the freedom to enjoy an open relationship

I don't want my relationship with my partner to have to conform to the rules of outdated heteronormative ideas.
Pride Month is an opportunity to celebrate different ways of being in relationships.Bianca Bagnarelli / for NBC News
By Jeff Leavell

The very act of being a Queer person is radical. Who we love and who we have sex with are acts of political defiance. Being visible, being proud, refusing to hide who we are: These are rejections of tyranny, and Pride Month is an opportunity to celebrate that.

Being LGBTQ also means freedom — to define for myself how relationships will look. There is strength there, and Pride is about these things, too.

We didn’t want our relationship to feel like a trap. We both wanted to be free to explore and to experience new things, and didn’t want to limit each other.

So June is the ideal time to make the case for open relationships and to discuss how my partner, Layne, and I have benefited from our recent decision to open up.

When you live as an outsider, there is an opportunity to question the rules of the society you are living in. If who I am is viewed as wrong, or flawed, then why should I conform? Since LGBTQ people as a community have always been on the outside, there has been a long history of questioning how we approach love and sex and relationships. Layne and I decided we didn’t want the rules we followed to be outdated heteronormative ideas.

We each want the other to have the chance to live his life as big as possible. We had discussed the idea of having a nonmonogamous relationship many times over the course of our two years together before giving it a shot this year (though we're currently taking a hiatus in order to social distance during COVID-19). Neither of us wanted to feel like we were being forced into some societal definition of how a relationship should look and work.

The decision to open up had nothing to do with our sex life or the depth of our feelings for each other. It didn’t mean something was missing in our relationship. But it did mean we didn’t want our relationship to feel like a trap. We both wanted to be free to explore and to experience new things and didn’t want to limit each other.

Related

It’s not that I feel that monogamy is wrong or inherently flawed; it’s the idea that monogamy is the only way to have a strong and viable relationship that I reject. Indeed, the idea that monogamy is the only path to a healthy relationship is ridiculous. The argument could be made that monogamy creates resentment, that it’s why people lie and cheat on each other. Monogamy is fine if that’s what works for you. But it isn’t what works for me — and that’s fine as well.

At the same time, just because I believe in open, nonmonogamous and poly relationships doesn’t mean I don’t struggle with them, with jealousy and insecurity and doubt. It hasn’t always been easy. I can be petty. I often refer to myself as a cave man. Belief and practice aren’t always seamless. Ultimately, my fears come down to the same thing: What if I’m not good enough, sexy enough, worthy of love? And what if that means I end up alone, abandoned, with no one?

From left, Layne Manzer and Jeff Leavell.Courtesy Jeff Leavell

This raises the obvious question: If it’s so hard and threatening and scary, is it worth it? The answer is, absolutely, yes. Even when it feels impossibly hard, it is worth it. It can be scary and threatening. But I don’t want to let fear define how I love my partner or how I live my life.

I think it’s common to fall in love with someone and then try to make that person conform to our needs, but in doing this we are actually killing the very thing we found so attractive in the first place. The person we fell in love with is this whole, separate, living human being. I didn’t want to change Layne. Instead, I wanted to encourage him to be the man I met, to keep growing. I fell in love with Layne because of his independence.

What being in a nonmonogamous relationship has taught me is that I can't be, nor do I want to be, everything for my partner. Once I became willing to think differently, I began to question many of the rules of relationships and the best ways to support my partner.

Do we want to live together or do we choose to maintain separate households? How do we approach our finances? How do we set our goals as individuals and as a couple? Where do we see ourselves in the future?

The very act of rethinking assumptions about relationships has opened up a space for Layne and me to really question our choices and desires and what we each want and need from the other.

Related

At the end of the day, I get to be with the man I love. I’m excited for our journey and I’m excited that I get to grow with him and explore new boundaries. I get to witness my partner as he grows, to see the man he will become.

And I am excited to see who I will become. I know that I have his support and love, that he is encouraging me just as I am encouraging him.

That is the kind of relationship I want to be in, during Pride Month and all months.

Jeff Leavell

Jeff Leavell is the author of "Accidental Warlocks," a memoir, and his work has been published in Vice, Them, The Washington Post and Business Insider. You can follow him on his blog Jeffleavell.com.