Black Joy

Your partner isn’t your property: How queer non-monogamous love can liberate you

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Cazembe Murphy Jackson and Ría Thompson-Washington are partners in love – and liberation.

They are both queer community organizers enjoying the blissful blooming of their ethical non-monogamous relationship, which involves multiple partners who all agree on the relationship’s structure. Before they started dating, they’d witnessed each other spend their careers challenging many forms of systemic oppression, including the gender binary. Now, they’re creating their own family dynamic by challenging the societal norms of what a relationship should look like.

The LGBTQ+ community is known for creating their own family structures. In ballroom culture, house families are a form of kinship - a place where LGBTQ+ people displaced by their blood families find security and community. Thompson-Washington said ethical non-monogamy can be another avenue for queer people to find family.

“We’re only really taught one family model structure through society – mom, dad, kids, dog, fish, whatever – heteronormativity is the default,” Thompson-Washington said. “Not every queer person has a story where their family rejects them, but a lot of queer people do. Because of that, we’re forced to build our own family dynamics, and sometimes it’s through the homogeneous model, but maybe there are other ways of putting those configurations together and still experiencing the familial love and community you’re looking for.”

Jackson has practiced ethically non-monogamy for about 15 years now. He admits to having been a habitual cheater and not being honest in past relationships. But the game changed when Jackson read “The Ethical Slut.” He said the book correlated with his journey as a trans man and entering the reproductive justice space.

“One of the points the book made that stuck out to me was you don’t actually own other people and they don’t own you. You’re not somebody’s property,” Jackson said. “I think a lot of my life I have been treated like property. So part of my reasoning for ethical non-monogamy is it’s part of my liberation. I get to love who I love and be honest about it.”

Time doesn’t accurately capture the emotional depth behind Thompson-Washington and Jackson’s relationship. They’ve been official for five months, but met about three years ago during Netroots Nation, a national conference for progressive activists. Their brief encounter developed into a friendship where they liked each other’s Facebook statuses and enjoyed a village of mutual friends. Then, Jackson began flying from Georgia to Thompson-Washington’s home in Washington, D.C. to spend the holidays with Thompson-Washington, her wife of eight years, Lindsay Washington, and the family pets.

This year, there’s something different in the air. Thompson-Washington was the first to be forward about her feelings for Jackson while working on “Day Without Us,” a campaign responding to the fall of Roe v. Wade. Thompson-Washington asked for Jackson’s help to get the word out and organize the event scheduled for the fall. But even after Jackson agreed to assist, they continued to text each other back and forth.

Then on July 25th, Jackson and Thompson-Washington found out they were going to cross paths during their travels. Jackson was flying out of Oakland the same time Thompson-Washington was flying into the city. Jackson expressed how nice it would be to see her.

Jackson swears he wasn’t trying to flirt. He genuinely just wanted to see her. But Thompson-Washington thought otherwise. So she seized the moment because she was attracted to Caz’s intellect and the way he fights for Black liberation.

“All of these things kept happening,” Thompson-Washington said. “We kept talking. We almost met like 90 million times. So in this moment, instead of leaving it up to chance, I was like, ‘Hey, just so you know, this is me shooting my shot if that’s OK.’”

Jackson laughed, “I said, ‘Well, shoot your shot then.’”

Jackson and Thompson-Washington have talked everyday ever since. But they didn’t move forward without Lindsay Washington being in the know. Clear honest communication, trust and boundary setting are part of the foundation of a polyamorous relationship, Thompson-Washington said.

“She was like, ‘Oh, good for you. I’m so happy for you,’” Thompson-Washington said. “She also thinks Caz is a dope person. So I just talked to her like I would talk to somebody who I love, care and trust, and tell her about somebody else I love, care and trust.”

Later that same week of July 25, Jackson hopped on the “Day Without Us” planning video call. It was clear to attendants that something was going on between the two of them based on the way they kept smiling at each other. They glowed when they talked about each other.

A month after Thompson-Washington made her move, they went on their first date: a romantic night filled with fancy food, melodies from “The Color Purple” and an official request from Jackson asking Thompson-Washington to be his girlfriend. Now they are just basking in the feeling of being together. Although they are five months in, both Thompson-Washington and Jackson feel like they’ve been together for five years. That’s because of their alignment of values, they said. Their determination of putting Black people and Black liberation first in everything they do is very clear.

“You heard people use the term ‘kindred spirit?’” Jackson asked. “If we have different lifetimes, it feels like we have already lived a lifetime together. And I was like, ‘Find me sooner next time.’”

Thompson-Washington said Jackson and her wife flow together well. They’ve already conspired to keep Thompson-Washington from opening her Christmas gifts too early. Thompson-Washington’s wife wishes her well when she drops Thompson-Washington off at the airport to visit Jackson in Georgia. Jackson and Lindsay Washington both understand how Thompson-Washington values both relationships. And she shows it by doing her due diligence of balancing the amount of love and attention each person receives.

It doesn’t feel like extra work, both Jackson and Thompson-Washington said. Everything seems to flow well as they share their trials and triumphs together and expand on their vision of love together.

“Love is expansive,” Thompson-Washington said. “I don’t think that one person is going to be the one person to fulfill everything I need. I’m multifaceted, and so is love.”

Family building is important, Thompson-Washington said. That’s especially true during a time of year when more Black people are vulnerable to depression due to the holidays and the aftereffects of systemic racism.

Thompson-Washington and Jackson are veterans in the social justice field. Thompson-Washington’s career stretches over 20 years. Jackson’s for 10 years. But they still speak affirmations over each other to give them the strength to keep going.

When Jackson was battling imposter syndrome for a job interview, Thompson-Washington became Jackson’s own personal pep rally. She reminded him the job was already his, how he had the power to manifest his dreams and that it’s all part of what the universe had in store for him.

“I was reminded of what I was capable of. Of who I am,” Jackson said. “We’ve always provided that type of support for each other. It comes naturally to us. Thompson-Washington says this and I like to say this, too, ‘You love me so well. How do you know how to love me like this because it be right what what I need in that moment?’”

Jackson recently got the word “revolutionary” tattooed across his neck. He showed off the new tat on Instagram, the song “Mango Butter” by Durand Bernarr playing in the background.

“That song represents my gender perfectly,” Jackson said. “He says, ‘I’m a bad bitch and I’m that nigga?’ And I’m like, ‘Yeah. That’s me.’”

Thompson-Washington supported the message, commenting under the post: You’re so gawd damn fine.

Jackson replies, I’m merely a reflection of you.

That’s the energy Jackson and Thompson-Washington give to each other all the time – hopefully, for many more lifetimes.

Jonece Starr Dunigan

Jonece Starr Dunigan |

Jonece Starr Dunigan (She/her/hers) is a journalist who gives the microphone to communities that are often ignored by mainstream media. Guided by empathy, her reporting centers the stories, movement work and voices of Black, brown and queer people. Her writing strives to amplify and empower readers instead of exploiting them of their traumas.

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