More from Poly Pride Weekend: My Speech
Well... as Thoreau said,
"If one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours."
So years later, there I was last Saturday onstage at a microphone at the Poly Pride Rally in New York's Central Park, trying to deliver my words as roundly as Obama does and making sure I could hear them echoing back from the distance. Below is what I said. Regular readers will recognize a lot of this, but if you haven't seen it yet....
For the last three years [I boomed into the mike], I’ve been running a site called Polyamory in the News. I’ve put up posts about more than 240 articles and broadcasts, and more of them keep coming in all the time. It's clear that during just these three years, worldwide interest in ethical polyamory, and the ideas and values behind it, has been growing rapidly.
Also growing are misconceptions about it, and misuses of the term that I think threaten to spiral out of control.
So at this historic moment, I want to deliver a caution, and some advice about our future.
People who push for years to get a bandwagon rolling are usually unprepared for what to do when the bandwagon finally starts to move. No longer is it all about a few devoted people grunting and straining from behind to make the bandwagon’s wheels move half an inch. When the effort begins to succeed, the bandwagon starts rolling on its own, faster and faster.
And unless the people with the original vision stop just shoving the rear bumper and run up and grab the steering wheel, pretty soon the bandwagon outruns them and leaves them behind. And their elation turns to horror as they watch it careen downhill out of control, in disastrous unintended directions. And then it wrecks itself spectacularly in a ditch. Survivors loot the wreckage and disappear, and onlookers nod their heads knowingly and say they saw it coming all along.
Think of what happened to the psychedelic drug movement a generation ago. It started with tremendous promise among a handful of philosophers and intellectuals in the early 1960s, gained popularity and momentum, careened out of control downmarket, and morphed into a cheapened, degraded "drugs are good" cultural meme for the masses. By the early 1970s the drug-culture bandwagon was so ugly and indiscriminate that people like Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin died from, of all the stupid things, tranquilizers and heroin.
So maybe it’s now time for us to pay less attention to just pushing the polyamory-awareness movement, and more to steering it.
If we are to save our defining word from serious cheapening in the next few years, and guide this thing in good directions as it gains momentum, we should, in my opinion, be taking every opportunity to do several things:
1. Keep stressing that successful polyamory requires high standards of communication, ethics, integrity, generosity, and concern for every person affected;
2. Emphasize that poly is not for everyone, and that monogamy is right and best for many;
3. Insist on the part of the definition that stresses respect for everyone and the "full knowledge and consent of all involved";
4. Expand that to not just "knowledge and consent," but well-wishing and good intention for all involved. The defining aspect of polyamory, I'm convinced — the thing that sets it apart and makes it powerful and radical and transformative — is in seeing one's metamours not as rivals to be resented, or even as neutral figures to be tolerated, but as, at minimum, friends and acquaintances — perhaps family even — for whom you genuinely wish good things. (And beyond that, of course, there's no limit to how close you can become.) This is what differentiates poly from merely having affairs. In this way it becomes a generalization of the magic of romantic love — into something much wider, and more widely applicable, than the dominant paradigm of a couple carefully walling away their particular love from anything to do with the rest of humanity.
And, 5. Warn people that, while poly can open extraordinary new worlds of joy and wonder and may help to humanize the world, its benefits must be earned: through courage, hard relationship-honesty work, ruthless self-examination, tough personal growth, and a quick readiness to (as they say in the Marines) "choose the difficult right over the easy wrong."
Please — with the bandwagon now moving, let's not let it run away from us in the next few years to the point that "polyamory" goes mass-market as something careless or trivial, or in any way less than what we know it to be.
Here's another Poly Pride speech: Anita Wagner's "The Mainstreaming of Polyamory".
And another: Leanna Wolfe's "On Kittens and the Very Invented Culture of Polyamory".
And Tristan Taormino's ringing Poly Pride Keynote Address.