Monday, November 22, 2010

Loving More workshop: Facing a Monogamous World

This is the last installment of workshop reviews from the Loving More Poly Living conference in Seattle, 2010, that I attended. I feel like I was saving up writing about this one for reasons which didn't really become clear to me until I woke up this morning to read a poly friend's blog post which was answering what amounted to a hate-letter from a monogamous-identified woman who obviously felt very threatened by the very idea of polyamory.

Mixed in with my disappointment and anger at the attack was the feeling, for me, that there is still a long way to go in educating the mainstream population about not just polyamory, but about basic human rights and decency (I'll leave out the desire to see better grammar, though as an English teacher lack of punctuation does tend to colour my opinion of the person doing the writing).

Anyway, this is all a rather personal preamble to my review of a very stimulating and inspiring workshop presented by Pepper Mint, a San Francisco educator, organizer, activist, and social theorist in the polyamory and BDSM movements.  Pepper's contribution to polyamory includes advocacy and organization of local poly events in San Francisco, as well as his excellent blog,  Freaksexual.

His workshop offering at the conference centred on an interactive discussion brainstorming ways in which living in a mono-centric world affects our lives as polyamorous people. 

The workshop's opening statement:  "Most of the problems we face being non-monogamous come from living in a monogamous world" pulled no punches.  We are in a misunderstood (and often ignored) minority.  Not only are there cultural biases (and institutionalized ones) against polyamorous relationships, these biases create power imbalances which perpetuate the feeling of being different (or even persecuted) if you choose to have more than one partner.  

Pepper also reminded us that not all biases come from without -- we ourselves, as products of a monogamous social paradigm -- have embedded and unconscious assumptions about possessiveness, territoriality and competition within relationships that require us to do a lot of extra emotional work to be comfortable with our own poly desires.  

Finally, there is the phenomenon of expectations and even "etiquette" that is created within the sub-culture of polyamorous communities themselves.  We need to remind ourselves that simply because we enjoy the company of other poly people because they make us feel included within the context of a larger mono-centric world, there is no poly "rule book" or "one true way" to be polyamorous, though you often wonder reading poly forums and faq's referring to poly "definitions" and practices.  

I enjoyed the honesty and tough issues that were brought up in this workshop; it's not an easy thing, especially in an environment where you're feeling safe and accepted among your poly peers, to admit that it's a big, often cold and sceptical monogamous world out there that for the most part isn't terribly interested in people doing anything different from the norm.  To be poly in a monogamous world is to be different, and it's up to each of us to choose whether we want to hide, or advocate for change.  Either choice involves hard work and a certain amount of courage.  

Cunning Minx and Pepper Mint at Poly Living, 2010.

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