Billy Holder was looking through a kitchen drawer searching for his barbecue tools. He was about to cook dinner for his wife, Melissa, and their boyfriend, Jeremy, following an afternoon at the park.
Holder and his wife, Melissa, have been married 14 years and have two teens and a six-year old child. They live a polyamorous lifestyle — not to be confused with polygamy, which means marrying more than one person, or even “swinging,” because, they explain, polyamory is about love first, not sex. Generally, polyamory can be defined as open, honest non-monogamous relationships.
After watching his brother go through a horrible divorce, Holder said the two sat down to discuss ways to not ever let that happen to them. The answer was to form a new way of loving — to be open and honest about other lovers.
While living in Louisiana, Holder and his wife (who asked her last name not be used) were involved with another woman, a relationship that didn’t pan out. When Holder relocated to Fayetteville, Ga., for work, he said he kept his family in Louisiana for six months to ensure he passed the probationary period and so the kids could finish out the school year.
While living in Georgia and before his primary family moved here, Holder met Jeremy (who also asked his last name not be used) at a camping festival.
“We clicked and I figured he would click with my wife,” Holder says.
‘No sneaking around, no lying, no cheating’
Holder, who identifies as bisexual, introduced his wife to Jeremy two years ago. He has private — including sexual — time with Jeremy as well as with his wife. Melissa also has a sexual relationship with Jeremy. But all three are quick to point out that polyamory is not about being promiscuous.
“The biggest misconception is that love equals sex. You can completely love someone without having intercourse,” Holder says.
Jeremy lives in Alabama and visits Holder on the weekends and holidays. Jeremy also has a girlfriend in Alabama.
“We’re a lot more open. There is no sneaking around, no lying, no cheating, because having that level of communication is huge. Even for monogamous couples, having a strong level of open communication is important,” Holder says. “There’s nothing too big we can’t talk about.”
Holder says he tried to have several monogamous relationships in the past, but he never felt quite right.
“For me, I always felt like something was missing. I felt like I was chained down,” he said. “I had more love to give.”
Wanting to connect with more “poly” people in Georgia and Atlanta, especially with poly people with children, Holder founded the Atlanta Polyamory Meetup group at Meetup.com/Atlanta-Polyamory, The group currently has 150 members and continues to grow, he said.
There is enough interest for the group to host the first annual Atlanta Poly Weekend March 25-27. The event includes speakers, workshops and time to socialize.
If you are polyamorous and interested in being part of a study, email Dr. Elizabeth Sheff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
One of those speakers is Dr. Elizabeth Sheff, an assistant professor at Georgia State University. Sheff focuses her research on sexuality, gender, family, deviance and communities. One area she specializes in is the poly (short for polyamorous) community, specifically a long-range study on polyamorous families with children.
While Atlanta may be a hotbed for polyamorous people, there is not a well-organized community as can be seen in cities like San Francisco or Seattle.
“For the life of me I can’t figure out why, especially because Atlanta is such a magnet for other sexual minorities. The kink scene, for example, is well developed. There is a well-established gay and lesbian community and a burgeoning transgender community,” she said.
Gay men do have non-monogamous relationships, she said, but they don’t consider it polyamorous.
“Gay men invented non-monogamy,” she said.
Sheff remembers asking a gay friend who was in a long-term relationship with his boyfriend but who also had outside lovers why he didn’t consider himself poly. He told her,
“We don’t need another label for something we’re already doing.”
Sheff, who identifies as bisexual, said it’s important to note that no two polyamorous relationships are alike. But what they do have in common is that they are focused on honesty and community with full disclosure of relationships to everyone involved.
Still room for monagamy in LGBT culture?
Darian Aaron, 30, and his boyfriend, Joseph Gates, 22, have been together six months. When they decided to commit to each other, they discussed monogamy and decided they would be exclusive to each other.
“We met on Twitter,” said Aaron, who blogs at Living Out Loud with Darian. “First we flirted publicly, then we started doing it in private.”
Their first date was for ice cream at Rita’s in Midtown and the couple is set to move in together in the fall.
“We did discuss monogamy and we both decided this early on we wanted to be with each other exclusively. We both understand how open relationships are. I believe there has to be a level of trust between two parties before that can happen,” said Aaron.
Bringing in a third party too soon may sabotage their relationship, Aaron added.
“We are still building that foundation for something we want to last a lifetime,” he said.
Gates acknowledged he is the jealous type — something that has to be dealt with carefully in polyamorous relationships — and can’t imagine Aaron with someone else. He also wants to prove to the world that two black gay men can be in a loving relationship, something he says is not visible in society.
“I want to break the stereotype. Me and Darian are an example that you can find two black gay men in love and that it’s a wonderful thing,” Gates said.
Aaron, who wrote a series of “Coupled Up” stories for his blog, has now written a book about black gay men in loving relationships that is tentatively set to be released this spring.
Monogamy is definitely a challenge for any relationship, Aaron said, not only for gay men. But in Atlanta, where there are “so many beautiful men,” it can be difficult to remain faithful to one person.
“This is part of an ongoing discussion I have with my friends,” Aaron said. “I got lucky that I met someone who is on the same page.”
Atlanta also has a “notorious reputation” as a place to go for quick, meaningless sex, Aaron said.
“It’s hard to come across a couple in a committed, loving relationship. And a lot of people are jaded,” he said.
For Gates, who said he looks forward to learning more about Aaron every day, their love is strong enough to combat the outside forces that may say their monogamous relationship is not the norm, especially among gay men.
“He has shown me that it is OK to live out loud, to be gay and proud,” Gates said. “He reassures me he loves me no matter what.”
For Aaron, Gates is an example of unconditional love.
“I love so much about him. He accepts me as I am, flaws and all,” he said.