After 10 Years in an Open Marriage, I Came Out to My Mom as Polyamorous

Photo: Courtesy of Miss Misty Page.
While out at happy hour with my mother, I watch her fiddle with the latest upgrade to her large diamond wedding ring. The moments she and I have spent like this, entirely alone, are so few I could count them on one hand. It’s partly because she raised my brothers and me as a single mother, leaving little time for us individually, and that whenever my larger Mexican family takes the 45-minute drive to see each other, there’s usually more people in tow. But I suspect it’s also the fact that sitting together with all our differences is so damn uncomfortable. This rare intimacy somehow reminds me of a first date — the slow thaw as we order and the familiar hope that this time I might be able to share more. We're a few days late, but we're celebrating my 35th birthday.
After we order a second glass of house red, we loosen up a bit, and mom travels back to 35. Those were the years between my dad, Ernie, and stepdad, the years when my mom gave herself permission to be the MILFiest version of herself. For the first time, she tells me, bragging, about the men of that time: Henry took her on a helicopter ride. David treated her to dinners at fine restaurants. And there was another Ernie who penned her epic love letters, notes she still hides from her husband. 
We’re both laughing now, though for very different reasons. “How funny,” I say, “to have to hide something from so long ago.” And here’s where the moment turns. My mother tightens, and once again the invitation presents itself. She asks: “How would you feel if Daniel kept letters like that from his old flames?”

"With my mom, I still struggle to reveal who I am. I am still keeping secrets from her."

Bae Leche
What’s the right way to say that Daniel, my husband, and I are polyamorous, and that we’ve been in an open relationship for more than a decade? 
In my work as an artist and educator, and my life as a friend and mother, I’ve never had a problem answering those questions. In my personal and professional lives, my purpose is to normalize and integrate the erotic self, challenging norms and expectations. I am brave. But with my mother, it’s always been different. In the world, I may be Bae Leche. But with my mom, I still struggle to reveal who I am. I am still keeping secrets from her
So I take a deep breath, and I tell her. Behind her signature smokey eye, I watch her face do that thing it does when she sees something in me she doesn’t like. Even when she manages to say nothing, I can always read it in the silence and tightness of her body. I watch her take a very large sip of wine. 
Photo: Courtesy of Bree Leche.
“Well, you have always been weird. So I am not surprised,” she says.
I wait for another large sip. 
“But I think if you really loved each other, you wouldn’t have to do that,” she continues.
I feel stung but also proud of her restraint. She’s never hid her displeasure with what she calls my shamelessness. At times, she’s downright mean. But I must say I prefer that reaction to the alternative — explosive rage. 
My body summons a childhood memory in an instant: my mother at the front door with my diary in hand. I’m 15, and she just found out I lost my virginity. She screams at me and pushes me, so drunk with devastation that even then, I felt it was about a lot more than me having sex.

"She was afraid of my brazenness, but she was more afraid of the consequences I might face."

My mom, whose face looks like she just caught a whiff of something vile, waits until the server leaves before bringing me back to the present moment by leaning in and asking, "Why are you so obsessed with sex?" It’s a question she’s asked me many times before — never satisfied with my answer.
“Because I’m a slut,” I scream in my head. While my polyamory isn't solely about sex — a common misconception — I can't deny that my open marriage allows me to explore aspects of my sexuality, my queerness and kinkiness, that I couldn't within a monogamous framework. Our discussion doesn't go that deep, and I am just grateful that we aren’t fighting. The afternoon she read my diary, we also engaged in a wrestling match on the living room floor so she could snatch away my Nokia phone. She later called my boyfriend’s parents and threatened to get them deported. She told the teenage secrets she learned to my grandparents and my little brothers. 
Though it was all mortifying at the time, years later, I understand her dysregulation and seeming rejection of me with greater clarity, recognizing the underlying emotion: pure fear. Behind the dizzying conflicting messages she conveyed during my teenage years — encouraging me to wear push-up bras yet expressing anger when my skirts were too short — I realize they all stemmed from her internal struggles as she navigated the challenges of how to win as a brown-skinned Latina woman in this world. She was afraid of my brazenness, but she was more afraid of the consequences I might face.
Photo: Courtesy of Bree Leche.
She was so careful to never leave the house without her hair done and her full face of makeup, dressing modestly but fashionably. However, my grandparents never failed to comment on her fluctuating weight. 
“Mi’ja, you’ve gained,” they tell her.
She was prom queen at her mostly white high school, the first woman in her family to graduate college, and she had a well-paying office job. She had done all those things in a determined pursuit of financial independence that would afford her more freedom than her mother, aunts, and grandmother. Yet infidelity still found its way into her marriages more than once, echoing the experiences of generations before her. 
She comes from generations of Mexican-American women who have either directly endured significant personal and systemic traumas — sexual abuse, machismo, racism, classism, and infidelity — or spent their entire lives trying to navigate a path that might shield them from such challenges. My grandmother, for example, wore oversized T-shirts and loose shorts to avoid unwanted attention, but this practice did not save her from being followed and attacked in public despite being well into her 50s.  
I look up from my birthday dessert and can see her mouth twisting so hard to try and contain every hurtful thing she wants to say. Her effort looks painful. I am making the same effort to hold back my tears. We are quiet.

"I dare to dream of a future where we celebrate our differences, acknowledge our traumas, cherish our bodies, and have the freedom to allow love to exist in all its forms."

Her first real question: “Don’t you get jealous?”
The longing I have for her to see the full me and accept all my parts is agonizing. I mourn the inability to share about the sweetness of my other partners, the pride in nurturing children in a body-positive and sex-positive environment, or the thrill of my erotic art being displayed in a gallery. Yes, my inner child yearns to share these experiences and bask in her pride-filled approval. But engaging in generational work on her behalf, I accept that her nervous system can only take so much at a time. 
So as I ponder the question of whether it is my responsibility to push her to see the larger picture or to persuade her of the validity of my choices, I realize that perhaps the greatest act of love is not in pushing too forcefully, but in leaving room to also hold space — space for understanding and for healing. And in that space, I dare to dream of a future where we celebrate our differences, acknowledge our traumas, cherish our bodies, and have the freedom to allow love to exist in all its forms.

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