Queerly Beloved is a column and forthcoming podcast about queer relationships that expand our understanding of "significant other" and celebrate LGBTQ chosen family.
Sara Gregory and Carolyn Beer are polyamorous partners in their early twenties who have been committed to each other for three years—though perhaps surprisingly to some, they don't have sex with each other and haven't lived near each other for the much of their relationship. They met at the New College of Florida while Carolyn was a first-year and Sara was a second-year.
"Though until recently, Carolyn's only sexually been with men, we've always identified with lesbian relationships," says Sara, who identifies as genderqueer. "Over the years, our identities, understandings of relationships, and politics have changed radically with and because of each other. We now both have girlfriends, live in different countries, and are still deeply committed to one another."
With me in New York, Carolyn in Peru, and Sara in Florida, we connected online to talk about queering partnerships, not privileging sexual relationships over others, and the "lesbian continuum."
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
BROADLY: So, how did you two meet?
SARA: We met in yoga class. That particular day, we had a potluck after class and Carolyn had brought dozens of starfruit and offered them up to everyone. I was so impressed because she had somehow found this starfruit tree on our college campus. I really wanted to know where the tree was, so I asked her to take me there.
CAROLYN: Yeah, and I remember one of our first hangouts, we went running. We were supposed to meet at 8 AM, but Sara was expecting that I would be late like everybody else. So, they started running without me, and then I ran after them and caught them.
SARA: It was like 7:55 or something and I was like_, there’s no way she’s showing, She’s gonna bail on me, I’m not waiting around._ So, Carolyn caught up and was actually much better and much faster.
That’s the cutest thing I’ve ever heard. What was your relationship like at first?
CAROLYN: So, it never has been sexual. At first, I would describe it as “friends,” and then I remember a moment when we were swimming together at the pool, where we realized that both of us were interested in polyamory. And then I remember a long, long conversation ensuing, and us discussing what it meant to be in relationship in general…what it means to be in an intentional relationship with someone, and what that means for sexuality, and how the sexual aspect of a relationship can transform how you think about it and the hierarchies and priorities in your life.
A lot of our discussions came from the queer theory course that Sara was taking, especially the theory of the lesbian continuum.
What is that?
SARA: Oh man, it was like polyamory before I feel a lot of that language started happening. The way that I would speak about it now is it’s about the way that we could queer relationships—as in all relationships—and lead a woman-centric life and incorporate a lesbian understanding of all relationships (like my relationship with my mother, for example) as a lesbian relationship.
Regardless of the fact that I don’t identify as cis, my life is very woman-centric and I still use that lesbian language. The lesbian continuum, I think, really affected the both of us and how we wanted to talk about relationships and, in general, how we were both really committed to deconstructing hierarchies in our relationships—especially not privileging sexual relationships over non-sexual relationships. And even before I had read this, we realized and verbally acknowledged and communicated that we were in an intentional relationship, and that we were very committed to each other, and that it was a lesbian relationship regardless of whether or not it was sexual or ever would be.
Do you remember what it was like to realize that despite always being told that partnerships were something sexual, you could actually have a non-sexual partnership and that that’s what you two wanted with each other?
SARA: As far as me and Carolyn goes, I remember our conversation by the pool less so and actually remember a different conversation we had when we were running. It was at night, and we were on this dark, twisty road. We were talking about Carolyn’s childhood and the people in her community, and I remember we were both quiet for a bit, and then it dawned on me—and I felt like it was a mutual thing—where I was like: This isn’t just a friendship, this is a partnership.
In general, I had been having these thoughts for a while. When I was 16, I began seriously investigating and leaning into my own skepticism of monogamy.
CAROLYN: Where Sara had kinda come at it from the experience of having open sexual relationships, I remember coming to polyamory through a conversation with a 50-year-old man in my life who recommended this book. I read this book More Than Two and that, for me, really separated the concepts of sexual, emotional, physical, [and] spiritual needs in a relationship, so I came to college not really expecting to have all of those aspects in a relationship [from one person].
In high school, I remember arguing a lot about concepts that I didn't really have theory to [help me articulate] and being upset that a lot of my really, really close women friends were being devalued under the name of our relationship. So I think it was through conversation that I was able to place myself in this lesbian continuum in relationship with him.
What I love most about polyamory is that it can give you the language to really create and shape and have agency over the relationships you’re in.
"I think even if the conversations are intellectual, the root of them is really deep and connected to something bigger."
What was the next chapter of your relationship?
CAROLYN: Things got really intense, to the point where I was crying leaving spring semester and I think that also had to do with other women in our lives. We talked more about the continuum then, and that was really helpful in terms of contextualizing my relationship with my mother, who is a lesbian… and then we went away for the summer, but Sara came to visit me and that was great.
SARA: I met Carolyn’s mom when I was a second year, and I remember crying when I met her because my background is very different. Carolyn’s mom is a lesbian; so it’s all gravy, its all cool. My background is not like that. And I had felt very starved of lesbians in my real life. I was reading about them; I’m in all these classes; I’m doing all this debate and intellectual stuff, but in my day-to-day, I was like: How does what I’m learning about and these thoughts that I feel are very transformative actually manifest in my life? They’re not, in a lot of ways. So, I met Carolyn’s mom, and she was sharing some of her experiences and that was really emotional to me.
CAROLYN: The conversation with my mother was interesting and it was definitely a coming-together. I want to note that that was the first time I had asked or ever heard my mother’s coming-out story. Sara got me a lot more interested in my own mother and valuing her opinion and experience because before then, I just like never asked, never cared, didn't want to know about it.
It’s interesting that you two both bring up these somewhat intellectual conversations as some of the big milestones of your relationship. It seems like you do a lot of really important processing together. It makes me wonder how you’d describe what needs this relationship meet for you?
CAROLYN: For me, I think a big aspect is intellectual, and also emotionally being there… and I guess spiritual and reflective. I think even if the conversations are intellectual, the root of them is really deep and connected to something bigger.
SARA: I agree with all of that. We really challenge each other because our world views are so different, and I am constantly interested, frustrated, excited by what Carolyn has to say, and what she’s thinking about, and how she’s viewing the world, and how she’s in the world. I’m just endlessly fascinated. I would say, though, that I think our relationship is physical, but not in a sexual way. I think things we do together with our bodies have been a huge part of our relationship, I mean most of the things that I’ve said have been like, meeting for a run, us meeting at yoga, us taking a walk. All those things, for me, mark a different sort of physicality that I need and that allows me to feel really connected to Carolyn. So, despite the fact that we don't cuddle or hold hands or have sex, the physicality that we do share is really important to me, and it is a need that Carolyn meets for me.