Shibboleth: Finding Your Hidden Tribe


One of the challenges of being part of a sexual subculture in a society that sometimes doesn’t really approve of sex is in finding ways to reach out to other people. This is difficult in a vanilla world where one’s career or community position can be put at risk from too much information being public.  

Several months ago, I was at a vendor meeting (I work in tech) with a smart attractive woman wearing an infinity necklace, decently concealed beneath her clothes. (I wasn’t deliberately looking down her shirt… really… what terrible things you must think of me!) I told her privately how much I liked the necklace, and she appreciated my compliment. However, I could not seem to bring myself to ask if she was poly. It was a first meeting. It was difficult to get the private space for the more lengthy conversation that might ensue, so I placed it aside, hoping for an opportunity.

We parted without further words and did not see each other again for several months. This time, I was the one on the road, along with a friend, my manager, and my director, along with several higher ups from her company. We were at a major manufacturer of enterprise disk arrays. I won’t mention the name, but they also make a corded (and recently cordless) vibrator that is one of the best in the business. This time, she had earrings that looked like twisted infinities… as if the symbol was implied without being stated outright.

I was reminded of the West Wing (I am still a West Wing junkie, even after all these years) season 2, episode 8 “Shibboleth.” The word is from the King James Bible, book of Judges, chapter 12.

“…Then said they unto him, Say now Shibboleth: and he said Sibboleth: for he could not frame to pronounce it right. Then they took him, and slew him at the passages of Jordan: and there fell at that time of the Ephraimites forty and two thousand.”

Shibboleth is a password, a word spoken among the Israelites that outsiders fail to recognize. “Lifestyle” would be a strong shibboleth among swingers, and the infinity symbol can also be among poly folk. Once again I waited for a break where most people were heading to the bathrooms when I privately remarked about her earrings and how they resembled the infinity. She pulled out her necklace (again hidden beneath her blouse) and told me her boyfriend had given both to her and she never took the necklace off.

The break was very brief, and I had little enough time to share with her my own ring, “My infinity jewelry,” I said, “a gift from my partner.” My partner… not girlfriend or spouse… are you who I think you are? Are you part of my tribe? Or am I making a damn fool of myself? She said it was beautiful, but, right at that moment, management’s arrival in the conference room preempted any more dialogue. She announced that she had to leave the conference early in order to be with another client, and she was looking forward to speaking with my company some more in the near future.

I sighed… no apparently not. Too bad.

If I was ever on the road in a nearby metropolitan area, it might have been fun to look her up. She gathered her things and while everyone’s attention went back to the PowerPoint presentation on the screen, I watched as she left. She looked right at me, put her thumb to her ear, and pinky to her mouth a nearly universal gesture. She mouthed the words “Call me” and turned through the door and left.

Shibboleth indeed.


About Author

The Salmon is exploring swinging and poly as a married single. Married for over 20 years, he and his love explore non-monogamy together and in different ways.

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