Alex Alberto

On Self-Portrait as a Portal to Exploring Polyamory and Unconventional Love Stories

Cover of Alex Alberto: On Self-Portrait as a Portal to Exploring Polyamory and Unconventional Love Stories

I met Alex Alberto in one of Write or Die’s Hit Submit Parties last spring. Alex and I went on having our own discussion about writing and publishing, the pros and cons of publishing with an indie press vs. a big five, essay writing and how we aim to tell our stories. I was so thrilled for Alex when they announced the Kickstarter for Quilted Press, “A collective of Independent Authors who queer the traditional narratives of love, family, and identity. Their first two books were published in February: Stellar Nursery: On My (Trans) Body and My Choice by K.G. Strayer, and Entwined: Essays on Polyamory and Creating Home by Alex Alberto.

In their author’s note, Alex states that, “I needed stories that would give shape to my dreams, offer me hope, and not make me feel broken. I read many non-monogamy how-to and self-help books, but what I needed most was polyamorous versions of the millions of monogamous love stories that bombarded me from movies, books, TV, and the world that surrounded me.”  

There are thirteen princesses on the official Disney princess list: Snow White, Cinderella, Belle, Rapunzel, Tiana, Moana, Ariel, Raya, Pocahontas, Merida, Aurora, Jasmine, and Mulan. All of them are cisgender female characters who end up with cisgender male characters. And these are the stories we’ve read and watched our whole lives. Well, I guess Elemental features Lake, Pixar’s first non-binary character, who of course is on screen for like ten seconds.

As a female, married to a man with whom I have a child, I wanted to read this book because I wanted to learn about the types of nuanced relationships Alex chronicles in Entwined. Ooh, I love that title. Entwined: to wind or twist together; interweave. That’s what this book is—the way Alex has woven in and out of their relationships, how Alex navigates the reader so clearly and expressively through these detailed accounts, so clear that the writing feels like reading a personal diary.  

But diary isn’t the right word, and it isn’t the intent. The intention is to create conversation, an open dialogue about polyamory, and essentially, about people. Alex is creating a space for people who don’t fit into conventional romantic partnerships by creating a, “portrait of who I am, and who my partners and the other people in these pages are. We are human. All of us are flawed, none are irredeemable, and everyone in this book is still learning and growing.”


Brittany Ackerman: First of all, thank you for writing this book. Seriously, I learned so much about the polyamory community and the inner workings of relationships—romantic, platonic, and in-between. I love how eclectic the collection is in terms of style; we’ve got lyric essay, text threads, Q&A, even a whole play! In drafting the collection, did any of these pieces begin as one thing and end up another? In other words, did you ever try to write one piece as a traditional essay and then it took another form?  Did content inform structure, or vice versa?

Alex Alberto: Mostly, content informed form. For instance, one of the things that I find is missing in polyamorous stories is the richness of the relationship between metamours. A metamour is your partner’s partner. People focus so much on the person that’s between two metamours, the partner they share. But I’ve developed such unique and powerful relationships with my metamours. For me, they are the best part of polyamory. I really wanted to highlight this direct bond that I had with one of my metamours, so I decided to write Fragments For My Metamour in the second person, to her, in a kind of love letter form.

A Glossary of Love(s), which opens the book, came because in writing workshops, many people would ask me for more background: They wanted to know why I’d decided to try non-monogamy, and what it looked like very early on. I was much more interested in showing my polyamory after I was more seasoned. Every time I tried to write an essay about my early questioning and explorations, I got bored. That was the kind of story that I had seen elsewhere, so it didn’t feel particularly interesting or necessary—but I understood that it would help readers appreciate the later essays. Separately, there is a lot of lingo specific to polyamory, so some people suggested I should add a glossary at the beginning or the end of the book. I find definitions uninteresting and they often don’t do a good job of actually conveying concepts to people who are unfamiliar with polyamory. That’s why I decided to write a glossary essay, but in lieu of definitions, include a vignette or a scene that showed an example of that concept from my day-to-day life. I listed the vocabulary words in chronological order so readers quickly hop through a 14-year journey. So, now the essay serves as an introduction, glossary, and even table of contents of sorts, because many of the characters and events mentioned in it are explored more deeply in subsequent essays.

BA: “wide plank floors” was a standout essay for me. I’m a sucker for lyric essays, but the way you wove together the story of your father’s illness, your immigration to America, the demise of your parent’s relationship, and your coming out (both for sexual orientation and for gender identity), was done so seamlessly! It felt true to something I took away from your book in how just because someone is different (an important word in Entwined), doesn’t mean they are immune to the many sufferings of life.  

Beautiful craft aside, I wanted to mention Inspector Gadget. You mention it was you and your father’s favorite show to watch, and I found it interesting since Inspector Gadget himself is a cyborg: part man, part machine. His body is equipped with high-tech gadgets that he activates with his catchphrase, “Go-Go Gadget!” On Wikipedia, he’s described as, “powerful, lovable, caring and protective, and loyal to his career as a lawman, but he is also dim-witted, silly…”  

I couldn’t help but find parallels between the character of Inspector Gadget and the concept of being polyamorous, or even having a different gender identity. It doesn’t make someone less; quite the contrary it makes them perhaps more capable of love since they have to access so many various parts of themselves.  

Why was Inspector Gadget your favorite?  Do you see any similarities here?  Am I crazy?  

AA: Different relationships do allow me to embody different parts of myself. And were it not for polyamory, I seriously doubt that those different parts would have gotten as strong as they are, as “expressed,” and developed.

To be honest, it isn’t a connection I’ve ever made myself, but I do enjoy thinking about the fact that Inspector Gadget seamlessly incorporates “foreign” components into who he is. None of us really grew up with scripts for polyamory, and integrating these parts of ourselves does feel foreign at times. Polyamory has definitely made me feel more capable of love. 

BA: Speaking of different, which is a loaded word here, there’s a heart-wrenching scene you paint where you overhear your partner’s mother say to him, “We didn’t raise you different. You were a normal kid.” To which you reflect on here for the reader: “My heart sank. When my mother said the word different, it was ­fi­lled ­with ­love. ­It ­made me feel like she’d always seen me,­ even if neither of us had the words or conscious understanding of who I was. That’s how I thought Don’s mother would hear it. But when she repeated different,­ it was filled with loathing.”

I wonder if there are other words you’ve redefined, reclaimed, reimagined as part of your gender identity and relationship journey?

AA: In the book you see me discover new words, like “bigender,” and the overwhelming emotion of recognizing myself in a way I never had before. With the power of a single word.

That’s why I believe stories like this are so important. Mainstream media sometimes says “why do you feel the need to talk about your personal lives or identity like this?” Most of us who do are writing to allow other people those moments of self-recognition.

A word that has evolved over time for me is “partner.” It has expanded to include not only romantic relationships, but also platonic life partnerships, intimate friendships, creative partners. In the closing essay of my book, I say that “I started to look at romance and friendship as overlapping curves on the same spectrum of love. I see a partner as someone I love, and to whom I have made some sort of intentional commitment. Those partnerships can take any shape.”

BA: Another word here, “dépaysé,” which you define as “de-countried.” I found another definition online, “situated in unfamiliar surroundings; being out of one’s element.” In the essay, “queer en français,” you say that you’ve felt dépaysé your whole life: “In my own culture. At home. At school. In my own body.”

Do you think there’s a way to reframe this word, too? Can feeling “de-countried” ever be a positive and have a more optimistic connotation?

AA: Most people who feel authentic in the labels and boxes they’ve been given at birth don’t understand that it’s possible to feel this way all the time. French is my native language (I grew up in Québec) and I haven’t been able to find a word that describes that feeling better than dépaysé.

I don’t think I’ve reframed this feeling into something positive. But there is something interesting about the notion of feeling dépaysé and how it relates to travel, which is often used positively. The whole notion behind travel for leisure is for people to put themselves in situations where they might be a little lost, and to learn about another culture. It’s a feeling that many people seek. The journey I take in the book is the opposite: I had to “travel” to explore myself and new communities—to find where I belong, where I wouldn’t be dépaysé.

BA: Back to “wide plank floors”—I found it really moving that as you tear the carpet from the floor of your farmhouse, you not only uncover the ten-inch-wide plank floor below, but you also unleash the memory of your father helping you with various projects throughout the years. As you fish around YouTube for videos on how to refinish hardwood floors, you write, “Papa would have loved to teach me that.”

I find this generational bridge so endearing. It seems like moving to this new place, this idyllic farmhouse (albeit I’m sure it’s more work to restore than I could even imagine!), has been so freeing for you. I’d love for you to talk a bit about the experience and what it’s been like for you physically, mentally, emotionally, etc.

AA: Geographically, I’ve never felt more at home than I do in this rural community. At first, I was worried that moving here would make me step back into the closet. But the queer community I have built here is the best I’ve ever had. It was easier to find than it was when I lived in New York City. I bought this house with a partner, and two close friends (who don’t live here now but visit), with plans to farm, host retreats, and invite more people to come co-live with us. One important thing when we were looking at properties was the zoning code, which is incredibly limiting in most towns, and is often used to keep places homogenous and drive up prices. It’s racist and exclusionary, and a good indicator that queer/poly families aren’t welcome. Some codes limit parcels to single-family homes, and even include a definition of what a “family” is, with a limit on the number of adults who are not related by blood, marriage, or adoption. But there is no zoning here, so no one can show up with paperwork saying that our family isn’t allowed. This home is the first place that has felt permanent to me.

BA: I, too, grew up in a household that expected perfection, especially when it came to school. Through years and years of therapy (lol) I’ve come to understand it was my parent’s way of wanting a better life for me, one full of opportunities that maybe they didn’t have available to them.

As writers, we both know there is no such thing as perfect when it comes to our art.  There are drafts, and more drafts, and taking risks on the page, and then trashing it all, and then more drafts.  It’s all a draft until we die!  

But I wonder if you took any of your childhood expectations into your adult life?  Or is there anything you’ve continued to rally against?  As a nonbinary person, as a writer, etc.?

AA: Part of why I founded Quilted Press is because I wanted my story out, and on my own terms. I didn’t want to wait years querying agents, pitching presses, going through the long process of publishing traditionally. It doesn’t mean the book hasn’t been edited and produced carefully: it’s gone through the hands of multiple professional editors and so, so many workshop partners and Quilted Press collaborators. Our cover designer, Rachel Ake, worked on award winning books like Detransition Baby and Educated. Our interior designer, Alison Cnockaert, is amazing. But could I have made the book “more perfect” if I spent another year editing it? Sure. Do I sometimes have to stop myself from reworking an essay? Definitely. But I knew it would never be perfect, like you’re saying. And I have partners who are good at reminding me of that. I am still very obsessive and detail-oriented, and I make spreadsheets for everything in my life, but that’s just how my brain works.

BA: Last, because I know people will be curious about this:The people in your book are real. Maybe some are based on real people, but they all feel like people and not characters the way they would in a novel or collection of stories. How did you work to aim for this truth in writing Entwined? Was there any one person who was most challenging to portray on the page? How did you approach any challenges as they came up while writing?

AA: Thank you for the compliment! The hardest person to portray on the page was probably my partner’s mother, in “Scenes From a Polyamorous Coming Out on Thanksgiving.” You see the emotional wrangling that I’m doing in that essay, because this was somebody that I loved and I know loved me in the ways that she could, but it doesn’t mean that she didn’t cause a lot of hurt. I really wanted to make sure I did not portray her as a villain, while also making people who have grappled with rejection from family based on their sexual/relational orientation or gender nonconformity feel seen.

And yes, they are all very real people. One reason I think their realness comes across is that I’ve been pretty obsessive about documenting my polyamorous journey. And some of my partners have been incredibly supportive of my writing. They let me record the audio of our conversations, including relationship check-ins and discussions of conflicts. Throughout the process, they have often reminded me of details in the events I portray in the book. At times, they even interrupted me to say things like “Write this down, this needs to go in the book.” I am also just a very observant person. I write a lot down in my notes app as I go about my day. Things like noticing a little quirk in one of my partners, or words they say often, their posture, etc. I know I’ll look back at this time in my life one day as a really special period, so I try to capture it as precisely as I can.



Alex Alberto (they/them) is a queer and polyamorous storyteller and educator. They grew up in Montreal and currently live in upstate New York. Their essays have been published in HuffPost, Write or Die Magazine, and elsewhere, and their plays have been featured at Dixon Place and Theatre Row in New York City. Alex is the author of the genre-blending memoir Entwined: Essays on Polyamory and Creating Home. They co-founded Quilted Press, a collective of independent authors who reshape traditional narratives of love, family, and identity. They offer writers retreats and mentorships at Scrappy Literary. You can connect with Alex on Instagram and TikTok, and learn more about their work at

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