By Irina Groushevaia
The COVID-19 pandemic has exhausted LGBTQ+ people in many ways. As we enter our third year living through this traumatic experience, our communities continue to experience disproportionately negative impacts with little structural support in place to protect us or our livelihoods. As a result, we rely on our chosen families and communities for care and mutual aid. It is no wonder that pandemic-related isolation or quarantine periods, which prevent us from spending quality time with loved ones in safe gathering spaces, have impacted our mental health.
Ethically non-monogamous (ENM) and polyamorous folks have encountered unique challenges during the pandemic balancing dating and safety. Logo spoke to LGBTQ+ people in these communities for a firsthand look at how these unprecedented times have affected their love lives and lifestyles.
A Total Lifestyle Shift
Rah, an ENM Black queer and shibari practitioner based in New York City, says a major shift during the pandemic for them was remote work. A self-described “introverted homebody” prior to lockdown, they were already familiar with extended time at home and minimal social interaction. Time away from their partners and community has pushed them to become better about reaching out and seeking support.
Rah had established partners before the pandemic and has acquired new ones and experienced breakups in the years since, so they are now in a “hibernation” phase for dating, meaning they rarely have to navigate COVID-19-related agreements. However, they haven’t paused seeing new people for shibari. For their rope practice, Rah shifted their mindset and is actively trying to foster a more close-knit, intimate setting. Folks interested in playing with them fill out a form with background information, including whether they’d be willing to show proof of vaccination and a negative COVID-19 test.
“I am in the middle of a creative pursuit where I am seeking new people to practice rope bondage on,” Rah explains, “with hopes of being a better rope top and lead in general, and improving my shibari practice while unlocking deeper connections.”
They are triple vaccinated and stay diligent by getting tested regularly for COVID-19, which is already a common safety precaution for ENM people. “I’ve been fortunate to have only attracted like-minded folks that shared the same values around collective health,” adds Rah (pictured below). Their hard rules are no meet-ups when feeling ill and proof of a negative COVID-19 test before meeting up.
Jaime*, a nonbinary white queer who is solo-polyamorous — someone with multiple intimate relationships but an independent or single lifestyle — has had a more difficult time adjusting to poly life in a pandemic. After living in New York City for nine years, they relocated to Appalachian Ohio to live with a family member due to lack of work during the first COVID-19-related lockdown that began in March 2020. They haven’t been able to return since.
Losing their queer community in New York has taken a toll on Jaime’s mental health, and they aren’t alone. Numerous reports have linked pandemic-related constraints to an exacerbation of existing mental-health disparities among trans and gender non-conforming Americans.
Among other difficulties, Jaime has to travel an hour away for their testosterone prescriptions since so few medical providers offer trans health care in the area. This is yet another phenomenon exaggerated by the pandemic. “A lack of possible partners and feeling so much the ‘other’ in this area as a trans person has also tested my self-confidence and desirability as a partner,” they explain.
While they struggled earlier in the pandemic, Jaime has again found some footing and is casually dating and chatting with people online. “There are much fewer queer folks here and very few, if any, poly people. Generally, my searches take me to the closest large city, which is Columbus, Ohio, over two hours away from me.” They make sure potential partners are vaccinated and have gotten rapid and PCR COVID-19 tests in preparation for meet-ups. Above all, they focus on communication about possible exposures and understanding each other’s risks based on their jobs and lifestyle.
For some ENM couples, the pandemic had an overwhelmingly positive impact on their relationships. Phoenix, a nonbinary Filipinx American based in New York City, has been navigating their first non-monogamous relationship during the pandemic and enjoys the increased independence, reliance on communication, and room it leaves to nurture other relationships. They also joke that they've gotten better at sexting.
Phoenix began living with one of their partners while quarantined in April 2020 for convenience and safety, as living together minimized transit to and from their old places. They “officially moved in” with all their things in September 2021. The couple got creative to preserve their spark (and sanity) by orchestrating fun dates indoors.
“There were some charcuterie boards on the fire escape,” they remember. ”For my birthday, [my partner] gifted me a projector screen and mounted it across my bed, and we spent winter weekends watching every absurd lesbian or lesbian-adjacent movie we could think of.”
Both Phoenix (pictured above) and their partner also got into long-distance relationships during lockdown. Unfortunately, the virus meant Phoenix’s newer partner had to drive more than eight hours to safely meet up IRL instead of taking a plane. Both stood in line for hours for COVID-19 tests right before seeing each other in the summer of 2020, as there were limited testing sites.
Phoenix says the experience helped the pair grow closer and find exciting ways to spend time together. “We holed up in a hotel, got takeout from my favorite neighborhood spots, and did mushrooms while we wandered around at night on empty streets.” They got re-tested after their hotel getaway, and Phoenix isolated at their old apartment before they received the results.
Now, Phoenix's current and future partners have to be vaccinated and get tested regularly. “This is the same for friends as well, even those who we've known for a long time.”
Of course, if someone is immunocompromised, pods, couples, or polycules have to take extra precautions. Emily, a white, nonbinary East Coaster, continues to navigate this since their metamour, or partner of a partner, is immunocompromised. They have gone on a few socially distanced dates but mostly abstained from seeking new partners during the pandemic.
“[My partner and I] dated from a six-foot distance for over a year, not even hugging or holding hands, which certainly felt like a long-distance relationship at times but ultimately solidified our relationship,” Emily (pictured above) shares. “Removing physical touch as a love language was certainly difficult, but gift-giving, which I don’t usually rely on much, was a helpful option to have.” They were also able to show their love through “acts of service,” such as checking on their partner’s apartment or watering their plants when they were out of town.
Vaccination and regular testing has opened the door a bit for Emily's relationships, but the recent Omicron surge has again pushed them to err on the safer side of things. They now see fewer new people.
Still, Emily is proud of their resilience in the face of a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic. “I both made sure to give myself space to mourn what was lost and no longer possible because of the pandemic, as well as adapt and find ways to fulfill social and community needs.”
*Subject’s name has been changed for privacy