swimming against the current*

Today, I bought a European power outlet adapter. Tomorrow I hop on a plane to Berlin. I’ve never been there before, but I’m learning all about the depraved sexual history of Berliners via a most delicious book, Voluptuous Panic: The Erotic World of Weimar Berlin, by Mel Gordon. Part richly illustrated coffee-table book, part sharply written social history, it’s really quite a fascinating read – and because of the huge and occasionally quite shocking pictures included on every glossy 8 1/2 x 11 page, when I open the book on a bus or subway, I notice the odd looks I get from strangers when they happen to glance over my shoulder. Anyway, I hardly expect the place to be anything like it was back in the 1920s, when the city supported no fewer than 85 – 85! jeezis! – lesbian nightclubs, but at the same time, I am going to speak at an international leatherdyke conference, Colors of Kink, so I’m hoping I’ll get at least some taste of Berlin-style perversion. So far I’m slated to interrogate a couple of bois at or before the Saturday-night kinky-Mafia-themed dinner, which is to be held at a venue called Cum Laude. I know, what a great name. And you gotta love it when friends set you up for fun, sight unseen… Wish me luck!

I’m sure I’ll have tons to post about when the conference is over – well, I have tons to post about now, but limited time in which to do so. Perhaps the excruciating long flight tomorrow will provide me with writing opportunities…? Anyway, I will aim to regale you with tales of Berlin adventuring sometime next week. In the meantime, I am taking a quick trip back in time to recall some insights that came up for me at a conference much closer to home back in 2006. *I originally posted this on June 28, 2006, shortly after the International Conference on Bisexuality in Toronto.

Oh, and if any of you fine readers have advice about must-do or must-see stuff in Berlin, please don’t be shy to comment. I have been quite lax in doing my usual pre-trip research, so I have five days to fill with post-conference explorations starting next week. If you happen to be a friendly Berlin tour guide, with or without a penchant for service and masochistic delights, skip the comment and just come say hello at the conference!

***

“You don’t notice the current when you’re swimming with it. It’s only when you swim against it that you realize how strong it is.” – Nathaniel Rambukkana

During the bi conference, one of the workshops I co-presented was about polyamory. A bunch of people came together to create an international poly panel. There were seven of us in total – two people from the States (a kinky second-generation-poly guy from San Francisco and an “older” woman from Nashville), one from the UK, and four of us from Montreal – a longtime MF poly couple who were the founders of Montreal’s poly group, a very cool academic who’s doing his PhD thesis on monogamy and polyamory, and myself.

We called the panel “Ask Aunts Poly and the Amory Uncles” – our friend from the UK came up with that one, I believe, and we all loved it. The idea was to get a whole bunch of potentially different viewpoints together and host a 201-level Q&A session for people who were already at least somewhat experienced at doing poly. Not that there’s anything wrong with poly 101, but it’s rare (and thus precious) to find much discussion out there beyond the standard questions, like “How do you deal with jealousy?” and “How do you do time management?”

(There are, by the way, some truly excellent writings here on 101 topics and beyond. I go back and read them regularly because Franklin Veaux has articulated things so well, and I highly recommend them if you’re looking for some insight.)

Speaking of time management, I remember the first time I ever attended a poly workshop (at the 2003 bi conference), and the leader joked that the polyamorist’s mating call was, “Let me get out my agenda!” And y’know, he was right. But I digress.

Anyway, so we parked ourselves in a line at the front of the room and took questions from a room of about 25 or 30 people. It was so great. I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a room of so many poly people all at once from so many different places all at once. They were from all over Canada and the States, and other places too, some as far Australia. Wild! We went over a whole range of topics, and audience participation was really high. Totally cool.

One of the best questions of all, though, was the very last one. A woman who does not identify as poly herself asked if we could imagine a world where there was no social stigma attached to being polyamorous, and if in such a world, we would still choose to be this way or if the thrill would somehow be gone. In other words, are we poly because it’s a politically shit-disturbing thing to do and we like to get people’s backs up, or are we poly because it’s a relationship style that truly suits us? She asked it without rancour, just genuine curiosity.

I really had to think about my answer to that for a while, but I eventually did come up with one. Basically this: although I practiced it for many years quite faithfully, I have never really understood monogamy; it always felt like bending to someone else’s rules to please them even though they were full of contradictions and based on principles I didn’t really agree with. When I discovered that it was possible to have relationships in other ways that remained ethical, I took to it immediately, and I don’t think I’ll ever want to go back.

Polyamory is an intrinsic part of my personal value system, and it stretches way beyond the boundaries of the way I manage who I date or sleep with or play with. It’s a life philosophy that affects my ethics in just about every interpersonal situation I can imagine – my friendships, my family, the ways I do business, the ways I manage any human situation that requires ethical thought. With this in mind, I can’t think of a world in which I wouldn’t want to function this way.

That being said, there is a political challenge inherent in this way of doing relationships, and I do enjoy that. I’d be lying if I said otherwise. It’s sort of similar to my bisexuality, in a way. I don’t necessarily have any more attraction to women than to men in theory, but if I walk down the street holding hands with a guy, chances are nobody will blink. On the other hand, if I walk down the street holding hands with a woman, people look. They react. They may smile, or give us the “gay nod,” or ignore us, or gape, or become angry, or feel satisfied at queer political progress, or roll their eyes – but there’s almost always a reaction of some sort. Even the fact of taking it for granted that it’s cool or normal for two women to be holding hands on the street is a politically significant reaction in my books.

And because I’m an educator, I find that very appealing. I like having everyday opportunities to make people think, to challenge them – not to alienate or piss them off but to cause reflection. So there is a definite political appeal in dating women that’s absent when it comes to dating men.

(That said, I may have to write another post soon about the very odd and thought-provoking experiences I’ve had recently with people’s reactions to me walking hand-in-hand in public with very visibly queer or gender-different men – a whole other can of worms, that.)

So of course, poly is appealing because it makes people think too. It’s a personal choice with major political ramifications, and because I’m a political person that’s got personal appeal… Just to mix it all together a little bit. No, I don’t do poly because I’m a shit-disturber. I don’t really think of myself as a shit-disturber at all – my approach is generally a lot more gentle than that. But I don’t know if I’ll ever really be able to divorce my politics from my personal life, and I kinda like it that way.

4 Responses

  1. (That said, I may have to write another post soon about the very odd and thought-provoking experiences I’ve had recently with people’s reactions to me walking hand-in-hand in public with very visibly queer or gender-different men – a whole other can of worms, that.)

    Did that post ever get written? If so, could you link to it?

    If not, I hope you’ll write it in the future — it sounds very interesting.

    : )

  2. “the very odd and thought-provoking experiences I’ve had recently with people’s reactions to me walking hand-in-hand in public with very visibly queer or gender-different men …”

    What a coincidence, I just wrote a short piece for McGill’s Queer and Trans Zine today on that exact subject. I shall email it to you.

  3. Ha! You know I think that is the very first time I’ve ever been called a “very cool academic” before. :-) This came up in a random net trawl of my name because I was trying to find something I’d written ages ago on poly stuff for a campus newspaper and this little chunk of memory I had forgotten about was a really pleasant surprise. I had forgotten about your blog and was like … who is this? when it suddenly dawned on me!

    Really nice post, I will have to keep reading your blog now though, so thanks a lot for stealing more time away from finishing my dissertation!

    Hey also, we live in the same city again and should have coffee and catch up sometime … you have my email!

  4. Daisy – It took me quite some time to actually write it, but I eventually did: http://sexgeek.wordpress.com/2007/07/20/queer-looks-dirty-looks/. Hope you enjoy. :)

    Sam – I’m interested! Do send it along if you think of it!

    Nathan – Good luck with the diss. I’m about to start an MA in the fall, so we can commiserate. And I didn’t know you were living in Toronto – how lovely! Let’s hang out!

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