So, a while back, I went to a Poly 201 workshop held at Venus Envy and run by the fabulous Andrea Zanin. It was a neat discussion and, while I didn’t learn anything new, I did get a lot of things confirmed in terms of what problems people get hit with, and how people deal with them. Which was helpful. 🙂
It was… “funny” isn’t the right word. I found that, by and large, what we were looking for was not that much farther beyond “Poly 101”. There was a lot of discussion about managing fears, navigating boundaries, and negotiating (scheduling; balancing) time with one’s People. But the thing is, it was a discussion. A lot of Poly 101 boils down to “I have no idea what I’m getting into. Someone tell me how to avoid the worst of the potential problems. Someone tell me how to do make this (possibly) work”. And, eventually, when you’ve been doing it for a while, you don’t need the “telling” anymore. You don’t need the “theory”, if I can put it like that. You need a place to talk about the practice.
And that, I think, may be why the workshop went the way it did.
It’s interesting, as someone who’s part of a heavily-poly, heavily-kinky, predominantly-dyke-identified part of QueerGirlWorld, to see who turns up at workshops like this. I was almost the only person who came solo[1] and I found that most of the partnered people who came were either male-female open couples or male-female-female (or female-male-female) trios wherein one or both of the women involved were bi/queer/pan but the guy… not necessarily het, but was attending with only women partner(s). What I’m saying is that it was a heavily pansexual crowd, one that predominantly used hierarchical-poly terms (primary, secondary) to talk about the people in their lives.
Now, I used the term “primary” to describe my wife. I do this because she’s my only “partner” (currently). Everyone else is a friend with occasional benefits, or a buddy who did a scene with me, or a non-romantic phamily-member, or whatever. I don’t use the term “secondary” to describe my wife’s other partners because I know they don’t matter less to her than I do. In my own little spot in the queer-poly-dyke-o-sphere, it’s fairly rare to hear someone talk about “my secondary” at all. It doesn’t seem like language that we use. At least not like that. (Maybe other points in the queer-poly-dyke-o-sphere do?) So it was a little bit weird to hear people throwing those terms around in the sense of “my spouse is my primary because they’re my spouse” and “my SO is my secondary because they’re *not* my spouse” and such-like.
I’m wondering if the reason (or one of the reasons) that the majority of what we talked about boiled down to relief at having a space to talk at all (swap tips, exchange ideas, share information) was because (am I making assumptions here?) the pansexual community is a lot more “normative” than the queer community (although not necessarily the “Capital L Lesbian” community?) in terms of how much it’s affected by the whole Charmed Circle thing.
What I mean is: When I need a space in which to talk about, say, polyamoury and multi-level power dynamics , I just call up my friends and have them all in for coffee and chatter. But (I gather) a lot of folks in the pan/het community… don’t really have that option. A lot of them seem to feel very isolated, like they can’t just bring this stuff up (“My wife’s girlfriend is coming over on Tuesday, so there will be three of us for dinner” or “My boyfriend’s other boyfriend came over last night and we all watched Harry Potter together”) in normal conversation. Wheras me? I have a queer-ass day-job where poly, while not necessarily expected, isn’t all that unusual either. I have a social circle where “mono” is the unexpected relationship style and “poly” (as a personal identification) is the norm. Consequently, I don’t risk losing a heap of social acceptance (aka: losing the valued relationships I have with a heap of friends, relatives, and maybe coleagues) if I’m open about what my personal life looks, like the way someone else – someone whose life, on the outside, looks fairly heteronormative (or homo-normative?) – might.
I think that brought a particular flavour to the workshop, and I’m curious to know what it would be like if more of the participants had actively identified as members of the queer community.
Beyond that, the workshop felt a little weird – not because “it felt a little weird”, but because I left feeling like I was more “on the ball” or “knowlegeable” or whatever than I had really expected. Sicne when do I have “helpful tips”? (Who knew?)
I don’t have a problem with this, of course, but it does mean that I Still Have Questions. Questions like:
1) If I visit my long-distance long-term partner’s place in Toronto, like I do every six months, and hir live-in long-term partner (whom I’ve known for half a decade, but am not romantically involved with) is having Angst about something in a way that affects their relationship… How much of Other Partner’s angst is my problem to deal with? How much of it is my privilege to deal with? Where are the appropriate boundaries for something that (a) is happening in my presence, (b) involves two people that I care about, (c) may or may not affect me in the short/long term, but (d) doesn’t (officially) have anything to do with me right now? What do I do in that situation?
2) How do we, as a poly constelation, negotiate the long-term elder care of my sweetheart who is twenty years my senior? Or, for that matter, the elder-care of five sets of aging parents, some of whom may not acknowledge the relationships I have with their children?
3) Suggestions for how to negotiate a change in living arrangment (“honey, we need a bigger house”) wherein another arm of the V (or the X or the B or whatever) is moving in? What are things that have come up for others in this situation, and how did they navigate it?
And, yeah, those are all fairly specific questions (none of which are explicitely about me and my particular Phamily, but all of which are at least slightly familiar to – probably – anyone whose been doing this long enough to have become involved with more than one “presumed-permanent” romantic relationship at a time), but they all go quite a bit beyond “How do you deal with jealousy?” and they are all questions for-which I’d really like to find answers. Someone else might want to ask about:
“Okay, how do you handle the grandparents (or parent-teacher interviews) when you have kids with a variety of different partners?”
“Suggestions for how to balance who I bring to which Office Event, if I bring anyone to any of them.”
“How do I allow my submissive the freedom to explore polyamoury while making sure that (a) he still fulfills his duties to me (read: I still feel well-served), and (b) he still feels well-held? What systems can I put in place to mitigate the ways in-which his NRE (and/or my insecurities/jealousy/fear) might affect our pre-existing 24/7 power-exchange dynamic and romance?”
What Andrea said, when she was doing her intro, was that she basically had two options for doing a Poly 201 workshop. One of them was the one she went with: To get everybody together to chat with each other and get some connections going. The other was to “specialize” and do a workshop on “poly with kids” or “navigating secondary health insurance plans for non-incorporated groups” or “long-term, long-distance constelationships” or… whatever. I think, under those circumstances, the “shared wisdom” approach is the right one to take.
I appreciate the conversation starters: She put a bunch of different pictures – everything from [multi-adult families eating dinner together] to [mushroom clouds] to [people dancing naked around a fire] – and asked people to talk (in small groups) about which pictures really jumped out at them, and why. We then rotated people a little bit and talked about the Biggest Challenge, and then Most Rewarding Aspect, of polyamoury for ourselves, personally. They were good exercises and good places to start a larger discussion (it’s the kind of workshop where it could go on all afternoon and we’d still only just scratch the surface). None the less, I’m really glad that I’ve got my own network of kinky, queer, poly chicks to talk this stuff out with at greater length. 🙂
Ms Syren.
[1] I think there was one other attendee who didn’t bring their partner… and I’m pretty sure what they were doing didn’t qualify as “consensual non-monogamy” for a variety of reasons. :-\