Poly Pride Day in New York: My Report
I wasn't sure what to expect this time. Last year's Poly Pride Weekend was a record-breaker — in terms of numbers of people, numbers of events, publicity efforts, and outside attention — thanks to an influx of enthusiastic and energetic volunteers in the months beforehand. This year, however, things were a lot quieter and turned out about half the size, for reasons described below.
A big Cuddle Party was again held Friday night at the LGBT Community Center in the West Village. The main (and only other) event, the Saturday Picnic & Rally at Great Hill, peaked at about 100 people mid-afternoon, half of last year's number. Not much as New York rallies go. But as a big picnic of friends and acquaintances, enlivened with live music, performances, and talks, it was a fine success.
I had a grand time. Met old friends, made new ones (Hi Michelle and Polina!), joined snuggle piles on blankets (this is a very affectionate crowd), and listened to some surprisingly good music. A lady having a birthday brought 100 cupcakes to pass around. And again, I got to deliver a speech.
So what happened to last year's momentum? Short version: Right after that weekend's success there was a split in leadership. Polyamorous NYC's founder wanted to keep the group to his vision of being primarily gay- and queer-focused and felt he was losing control to newcomers. The new volunteers, who had accepted leadership positions, wanted to do wider outreach to the mainstream world and have a bigger say in running things. The upshot: many of the new people left and are starting Open Love NY. The two sides of the split are now amicable and cross back and forth, including at Saturday's picnic (these are polys after all). But a failure to handle growing pains well halted the growth.
Out of consideration for the audience, the speeches onstage Saturday were limited to five minutes each. Here is mine, which I delivered at the top of my voice to echo from the distance:
The Long View
I started the Polyamory in the News site four years ago... it now has 338 articles, TV shows, radio interviews, magazine stories -- and most of them nowadays are surprisingly good. It's unusual now for the media to miss the basic concepts behind what we're doing, and why. That's a wonderful change from how it used to be.
But let's drop back and take a longer view.
I have believed for years that the polyamory-awareness work we are doing in our time is not just for us and now, but for the decades and centuries.
We are seeing that although we're rather small in numbers, the things that we are saying, and the examples that we are showing, grab very wide attention. We really turn heads. That's because we are declaring, and demonstrating, a previously almost unthinkable paradigm to most people for what is possible in our most intimate sphere of existence. And it's an idea that once heard and seen, is not easily forgotten.
Poly relationships have always been around. But until recent years they were little-known — secretive, ashamed, underground — accepted only among small private elites with no interest in gaining attention — and elsewhere, such relationships were dismissed as insignificant or a joke at best, or an awful crime at worst. A lot like how gay and lesbian relationships existed 50, or 100, or 200 years ago. The great emergence of gay relationships and gay culture into wide recognition in the last 40 years — the normalization of the gay alternative — marks a permanent change in the world. And for centuries to come, this change will be recognized as having taken place during our time.
The same is starting to happen with polyamory. There aren't very many of us yet. The largest poly get-togethers in any one place since this movement began have numbered about 200 or 250 people as best as I can determine 1. Newsweek just reported estimates that there are a half million poly households, in a nation of 300 million people. And yet, we've already had a head-turning impact throughout the Western world. We've introduced a new word into the English language literally. We've brought a ground-shifting concept — of choice in life relationship style, and of a generalization of romantic love — into wide public awareness. We're busting up the unspoken, unthought-about assumption of mono-normativity as the only possible way that's open to ethical, kind, good people. So that now, people living out in nowhereville who thought they were the only ones on Earth are having shocks of recognition, and realizing there's a world awaiting them. And, we're scaring the pants off bigtime social conservatives.
If we keep it up, future generations will grow up with the basic background knowledge that successful poly love relationships are a real, possible choice for some people — that monogamy isn't necessarily the only good way — and that for some people, life in a wonderful, love-rich poly family or network is possible, workable, and actually happening.
This is how the world changes. As the theologian Paul Tillich noted, "There were only a few thousand people in all Europe who brought about the Renaissance." 2
Lastly: So much of any education-and-awareness work must be done on faith. It is not given to us to know the fruits of our labor. Every generation thinks that their ideas are the culmination of history, that they are the crown of creation... but I'm pretty sure that the polyamory movement as it exists today, and as poly is practiced today, will be seen in the future as just building the foundation for advances that now appear impossible or haven't been imagined — but that will be created by our successors. Surely we are setting the stage for extraordinary and revolutionary developments to come... for things that are now only science fiction, or entirely unthought-of. Yet by shaping the good character of what we do now, we shape the character of the foundation that those advances will be built upon.
So, after much thought, I've concluded that we are doing something remarkably important. Keep it up.
As the afternoon grew late and chilly, we warmed up dancing to the gay rock of Houston Bernard and Bonfire Bandit. (Video). For more than a day later I still had an eerie, disorienting earworm/eyeworm of Larkin Grimm and her group performing a creepy extended version of "Durge"; if Hindu gods were real I'd be damn scared of them now. Kelli Dunham did a great job as MC and stage comedian all afternoon. Thanks to Polina Malamud, the poetry inserter, the crowd was introduced to Marge Piercy's wonderful polyamory poem "A New Constellation"; save this one for if you ever have a group-marriage ceremony. Piercy was unfortunately a little ahead of her time and never connected up with today's poly world.
Justen M. Bennett-Maccubbin , leader of Polyamorous NYC, is already planning the 2010 Poly Pride and has high hopes for a new breakthrough. And yup, I'll be back.
(Three notes for future attendees: It's October so bring a heavy coat and long pants no matter how warm the day starts. Despite PolyNYC's advice I drove my car right into Manhattan and, like last year, parked easily near the location. And yes, there are restrooms onsite.)
See also the blogs about the day by Kelli Dunham and by The Last Unicorn.
1 These are, to the best of my knowledge: the 2008 Poly NYC Picnic & Rally, the 2005 PolyCamp Northwest in Washington State, probably the annual Poly Paradise campsite at Burning Man, and the annual PolyDay get-together in London. One or more Loving More conferences around 2000 came close. Do you know of any others?
2 From A History of Christian Thought: From Its Judaic and Hellenistic Origins to Existentialism, Paul Tillich (1967, 1968), page 349. The page is online at tinyurl.com/y9f55nm. A version going around the internet is, "What we call the Renaissance was participated in by about one thousand people," and I've quoted that version before, but I can't trace it to Tillich, and my guess now is that it's someone's misquote. (If you know otherwise please write me at alan7388 AT gmail DOT com.)