This piece is part of Outward, Slate’s home for coverage of LGBTQ life, thought, and culture. Read more here.
In March, I will be officiating my ex-boyfriends’ wedding. Yep, two ex-boyfriends. One wedding. And it’s even more complicated than that: These particular exes are from a triad relationship that ended two years ago. I’m going to be there, at my exes’ wedding, to regale an audience of our friends and some of their family with nice stories about them while wearing a handsomely tailored suit. And I couldn’t be happier about it.
When I attempt to explain the situation to people unfamiliar with our shared history, their faces slowly scrunch up into concerned grimaces. Then the questions come super-fast and all at once with no pauses, and they are almost always the same: “Wait, what?”; “Oh my God, that’s so weird … isn’t it?”; “Wait, why didn’t you say no?” To quickly answer these questions right at the start: Yes, my ex-partners asked me to marry them. Yes, I suppose it’s “weird,” but honestly when have I not been “weird?” (Queer life without weird is Will & Grace.) Finally, I didn’t say no because I’m excited to do this for them, I care about them, and as they put it, I’m “a good public speaker.”
If these answers seem surprising, know that at one point in my life, I would have felt the same way. But having spent over a decade growing and loving in the queer community, I’ve learned that relationships can be a lot more malleable than traditional paradigms give them credit for. In fact, queer relationships are often very “weird.” And in that weirdness, I believe there’s wisdom—about love, commitment, change, and above all, family—that could benefit anyone interested in building connections that extend beyond couples, monogamy, and even the heartache of loss.
Before we get into that, though, you need the backstory: My boyfriend Sonny and I had been dating for three years when we introduced Chris into our relationship. Sonny and I had met through online dating. We were one of those OkCupid success stories, and we got domestic quickly. We cooked a lot, he came to most of my comedy shows, our friend groups merged. Our relationship got a lot of attention: People online and off seemed very taken with our antics, and we loved it. Sonny and I were blissfully silly—that’s the only word I can think of to describe it.
We knew Chris because he was cute on the internet, and he thought we were cute on the internet too – a sentiment we expressed by using an absurd amount of heart-eye emojis when commenting on his pictures. We began to hang out with him IRL in February 2014. Oddly enough, our first time hanging out was at a party on Valentine’s Day. Because the groundwork for flirtation had already been laid out online, it only increased when we met. Sonny and I would swoon over how handsome and funny Chris was, and I was instantly impressed by his background working in comic books. Chris had a confidence in social spaces that could make anyone feel comfortable, and his eye contact game is second to none.
We had our initial sexual encounter after a mind-alteringly gorgeous St. Vincent show at South by Southwest 2015. I had just gotten back from a short tour, and Chris had gotten Sonny and me VIP guest passes to the concert. We spent the whole day together roaming around Austin, popping into shows, taking photos with giant Twinkie mascots (which became a tradition for us), and of course, flirting. A look here, a lingering touch there. It was obvious that Chris really liked us. And during the St. Vincent performance it became clearer. The whole crowd seemed to be in on the experience, a sort of mass hysteria of amorous energy. We invited Chris over after the show and had our first threesome. It was new, surprising, and most of all wonderfully weird. Not weird because it’s uncommon for folks to have threesomes, but because it was out of our own norm. A fun one-time thing—or so we thought.
Soon after, we realized that maybe we were dating Chris. The decision to involve a third person wasn’t exactly premeditated. We weren’t looking for a third person at the time. We didn’t need Chris to alleviate some flaw or lack in our own relationship. We were just open to the idea, and we loved hanging out with him. A couple months into hanging out this way, we all had a “meeting” to discuss what the future of our situation was. Having a regular third or friend you hook up with is relatively common, but bringing someone fully into an existing relationship can be more delicate. Sonny and I started dating monogamously; changing that structure needed to be done thoughtfully. After a time spent thinking through what we wanted, we decided that we would officially begin dating Chris. After several months of dating Chris, his lease was up, and he moved in with us. We had the space in our large bedroom and king-size bed. Our two dogs got along great, and honestly, it just worked. Decisions around the house were made quickly. Often our strengths and weaknesses complemented each other. We slid very easily through what you might think would be a difficult transition.
As with the wedding now, while in the triad we regularly fielded a slew of questions that come with this sort of non-normative life arrangement: “What’s a triad?”; “Do you get jealous of your partners having sex without you?”; “But what about the future?” We’d answer patiently and even sometimes enjoyed people’s fascination with our lives. We didn’t have all of the answers, but we would explain what we could: A triad is an intimate romantic relationship that includes three people and does not necessarily entail an open relationship. No, I didn’t tend to get jealous about sex. Also talking through boundaries, such as when and how we would have sex, helped. Finally, the future is expansive and unwritten, there’s no reason three people can’t explore it together.
Eventually, the questions quieted and we settled into a “normal” of our own. It wasn’t super exotic or strange: We cooked, we went out, we watched a lot of Netflix. It was a “normal” relationship that just happened to involve more people. Then, two years later, that version of our relationship came to an end. Sonny and Chris had a regular 9-to-5 work schedule that aligned, while my life as a performer often kept me away. As they leaned more toward domesticity, I became more involved in comedy and performance. I began to fall in love with my friend and now-partner Sam, and eventually, Sonny and Chris decided to end the triad and continue on without me. They moved out, and, slowly, we all moved on.
Though our lives took different paths, Sonny, Chris, and I stayed close. Indeed, I’m fortunate enough to maintain close relationships with most of my ex-partners, and those that I don’t see regularly I still think of fondly. My exes are invited to family holidays, we reach out to each other for advice, we use shorthand texting that we developed during our relationship, like “hula hoop,” which means something is all over the place (e.g. “My hair is all hula hoop today”). I do not think of them as “ex-boyfriends” as much as I think of them as “good friends.” I know that’s not the case for everyone—some relationships do need to end with a severing of ties—but for me, maintaining intimate connections beyond a romantic or sexual expiration date is an important part of queer life.
Why might this be? The foundations of the queer community are built, by necessity, on the concept of “chosen family,” a nontraditional family structure built around shared experience and horizontal connections rather than strictly biological links. The need for chosen family often arises from homophobia and exclusion in the home. Some of us are lucky enough to have parents and siblings who accept us, or maybe even celebrate our lives; but unfortunately, even today that is not always the case. And even if we are accepted, we need to learn about our history and culture from people other than our parents. My chosen family includes queer folks, straight folks, my ex-boyfriends, my comedy friends, and some of my biological family. Compared to a bio family, my chosen family is massive and always expanding.
This concept of family means that when my exes asked me to marry them, it was a request not just from exes but from cherished members of my team. Our roles in each other’s lives have evolved, but have not diminished in value. That, by many measures, is weird. But we are capable of celebrating each other in this way precisely because we are weird. And knowing that means we have the ability to redefine the rules. If the obvious response to an ex asking you to help them get married is “no”—as everyone who asks me if it’s weird seems to think—what happens when you question that and decide to lean into weird, to see where weird, and your love of your chosen family, takes you? For me, it’s helped to break down outdated and sexist ideas of owning the ones we’ve loved, and to see how that ineffable emotion might be applied more liberally in support of each other.
I’m excited to be part of my exes’ wedding because the time we spent together was important and defied odds. Being with them confirmed for me the expansive possibility of queer relationships, and that when we try to fit into the itchy ill-fitting roles that were laid out by and for straight folks, it can really limit or even hurt us. In fact, I’d argue that by squeezing into those paradigms, we actually give up a part of what makes us unique. Weirdness is part of how we’ve survived, and that needn’t be lost just because some of us now have a legal right to coupled marriage.
During Christmas of 2017, I was unable to return home to Austin for the holidays, but Sonny and Chris, as well as several of my other close friends, gay and straight, went to my mother’s home. I had a Facetime call with Chris on Christmas Day and as the phone moved around the room, I saw so many people I’ve loved. I was in New York with my partner, Sam, they were in Austin, and for a moment we were all together. I was elated to know that my chosen family and my biological family were thriving through our shared connection. It seemed to me like an exciting vision of the future I wanted. A weird future full of experiences and partnerships that transcend the rules codified in the traditional models. A future that saw no one left behind, wondering where their people were. When I started working on this essay, a concerned friend asked, “Are you worried how your exes will react to you writing about your relationship?” Of course I was a little worried. So, I sent a draft to them as soon as it was done. And they responded in the weirdest, best way possible: with love, excitement, and a string of heart emojis.