Polyamory in the News!
. . . by Alan M.

June 13, 2012

The OpenSF Conference sets a record

Last weekend the poly world broke a record. In downtown San Francisco, the new OpenSF Conference drew a total of 500 people. That's about twice the number that has ever before gathered in one place for a polyamory-themed event, as far as I can determine.

Organizer Pepper Mint worked more than a year to built the conference. He defined its topic as ethical nonmonogamy broadly, including swingers and open relationships, but that's poly enough for me. And he says most of the people who came were poly-identified. So it's a record.

I wasn't there, but by all accounts so far OpenSF was a tremendous success — with many top-quality presenters, sessions, and social events, serious racial, ethnic, and lifestyle diversity, and heaps of energy.

Pepper is widely known and respected in the Bay Area as a poly/kink community organizer and queer theorist (who among other things founded Fetlife's largest poly group, with 22,000 members). Here's his post laying out OpenSF's goals and purposes; note the vigorous emphasis on diversity and inclusiveness. He pulled it together with the help of co-organizers and as the time drew near, large numbers of volunteers. He tells us:

We had 550-ish total registrations and 500-ish actual attendees. Both of those are plus or minus up to 10 people — our counting systems were not perfect.

I am super-pleased with the conference. The feedback so far as been entirely positive, with a lot of people commenting that the focus on diversity meant that they felt at home at this conference in a way they rarely feel at others.

I think by and large the sessions blew people out of the water. They were not expecting the content to be so interesting and challenging. We are sitting on an incredible goldmine of amazing sex educators here in the Bay Area, and it showed during this event.

And the keynotes were amazing. Yoseñio and Ignacio did a keynote talking about invisibility within nonmonogamous communities and multiple marginalizations. Tristan did a keynote that focused on the current political moment and the political implications of coming out.

Both keynotes and some sessions will eventually be available on video, when we get our shit together, which will probably be a couple weeks.

To answer Alan's question, the conference is currently $1500-ish in the hole, though I need to do an accounting. But, that's $1500 on a $27,000 conference. Also, I'm hoping to make some or all of that up by selling video or asking for donations.

My strategy on this conference (well, really on everything, but applied to the conference) was to gamble big, cut no corners, and go at it with all guns blazing. We promised folks everything and charged them a ridiculously low price for it. And it paid off in spades, though I was still unsure this would happen even two months ago. At some point soon I'm going to try to write up everything I remember so others can use my experience.

Update July 4: Pepper now writes that Open SF ended up $4,210 in the red after expenses of $28,401. Open SF is asking for donations to get squared up. Donate here. The page has a breakdown of the conference's costs and income.

Here is one writeup of what the event was like for a newbie, by Angelica O. (reprinted with permission):

Wow. Open SF was an intense and amazing experience. The Holiday Inn on Van Ness was totally chock-a-block with poly and other non-monogamous folks. G and I don't really identify much with any of the subcultures...we kind of did non-monogamy in a vacuum as there is basically no community in Taiwan and we were doing long-distance anyhow, so it wasn't even really a community of two. It's really eye-opening and exciting to find that lots of different folks have come up against the same challenges and came up with so many useful and interesting solutions. I personally thought the conference was a mix between the fun stuff (poly speed dating! [attendance 306]) and the heavier, more political issues (atheism and non-monogamy, marginalized and minority voices in the alt-sexual world).

Words I didn't know before Maybe because ethical non-monogamy is such a new thing, people seem to have an urge to coin new terms to describe people and concepts within it. Some are humorous, others helpful. Still more a bit goofy.

      ● Metamours: two people who share the same partner, but are not romantically involved between themselves.

      ● Outlaws: people who you consider as close as family perhaps as a part of a poly network, but whom you have no societally recognized connections with.

      ● Polysaturated: OK, this one's just a joke...for people who have so many relationship going on they run out of time/energy.

      ● Calendar jujitsu: what you need when you are dangerously close to being polysaturated.

      ● SOP: Swingers/ Open/ Poly: an umbrella term seeking to unite the ethically non-monogamous community, the way LGBTQ community unites the queers.

      ● Progressive swingers: Another term that I have no idea whether there is any wider currency beyond the people I heard using it. It describes swingers who do not adhere strictly to the swinger code, whatever it is.

Event: Poly "isms": Addressing Multiple Marginalizations in Non-Monogamous and Kink Community

I was strongly reminded that I dislike panel discussions where the facilitator asks a short question, and a mike is passed along all the participants of the panel. It's such a dull, unstructured format. I was interested in the topic and some of the panel participants (all POC and perhaps marginalized in other ways e.g. trans or large) were interesting. So I would say despite the format, I picked up some really interesting information.

Event: Atheism and Sexuality with Greta Christina

This was a nice barnburning speech about how rejecting religion leads to a re-evaluation of the religion-based moral framework for sexuality. Best line: "Without god to tell us what is ethical [in terms of sexual behavior], we actually have to turn to ethics." Christina argues that sexual ethics is commonly thought of as a big checklist of what's acceptable and what's not, and the checklist is constructed with a mishmash of tradition, religion and "the ick factor". Things that are icky to us are often in fact not unethical. Also, she points out that some of the best of our cultural achievements comes from taking a simple and fundamental human urge and making art out of it...for instance gourmet food versus feeding for sustenance. Second best line: "Apparently my DNA has been fooled into thinking that they can perpetuate themselves by spanking other women."

Event: Non-monogamy without sex

When you reject the premise that one relationship is the be-all-and-end-all romantically, interesting things happen to your non-romantic relationships too. You start asking why a relationship is automatically given more weight if sex is involved. Learning to be respectful and committed to non-monogamous partners leads you to evaluate other close relationships in your life and giving them the weight they properly deserve.

Three catagories of non-romantic relationships discussed: once-romantic relationships that are no longer sexual, "chosen family" relationships that never had a sexual element, and romantic friendships that contain a sexual tension that remains unconsummated. Marcia Baczynski and Julianne Carroll gave a great presentation that was very interactive and really got the croud buzzing. It occurs to me, and not me alone, that this kind of non-nuclear extended tribe that poly families end up being is actually a lot more like how humans lived for most of history than the mom+dad+2.5 kids set up that is currently standard.

Event: Sex with Benefits: Progressive swinging

There's a fair bit of mutual snobbery between the swingers and the poly folks. For swingers, non-monogamy is a very compartimentalized thing...just because they swap wives doesn't mean they don't also have the perfect house with white picket fence and vote Republican. Oh, and definitely NO HOMO! Among the men that is. Ladies, you go on ahead as it turns the guys on. Just don't get too weird or butch or anything. Well, the progressive swingers are seeking to expand out of the traditional, rigid 'swinger's code' stuff and reach out to the polys. I really didn't think there was much for me at the traditional swinger set, but the progressive swingers seem like a fun group and endeared me by drinking copious amounts of red wine during the panel and getting hilariously tipsy as a result.

Event: Keynote speech with Ignacio Rivera and Yosenio V. Lewis

This started off being really fun...it was an exploration of minority disenfranchisement in poly-land, an important but a bit of a bummer of a topic. But the humor was great and the presentation was in a really well-rehearsed cross-talk slam poetry format. Butttt...it went on for wayyyyy toooo looooong, and the Q & A completely lost me ("What do you think about using shared trauma as a framework for generating empathy regarding this topic...?" blah blah blah).

Poly speed dating

This was so fun. G had many fewer dates than I given that he is a straight, non-bicurious non-kinky male (he calls himself "the vanilla-est guy in polyville"). My best matches were [names removed].

Top 3 events I wish I could have attended, and overall thoughts

How Not To Be a Douche (on Fetlife and other sexy sites) presented by Cunning Minx.

Pickup Arts for Sweethearts. Because even after all these years of being non-monogamous, I still suck at flirting.

Poly Theory: Making Meaning and Re-Making Culture through Networked Romantic Relationships, presented by Joy Brooke Fairfield. Because I'm a sucker for changing the world.

Another attendee writes how her experience at OpenSF has inspired her to come out:

Tristan Taormino did the keynote speech on Sunday morning. She disclosed some very personal stories, and brought the audience to tears multiple times. One story, about three men who live in a triad, and are in relationships with one another was particularly poignant, and as she spoke about one man’s mother finally reaching acceptance with their non-monogamy, I witnessed several people sobbing. They want their families to accept their relationships too.

I have been a fan of Tristan’s for quite some time, and I have enormous amounts of respect and admiration for the work she does. Near the end of her keynote speech, Tristan issued a call to action. She spoke about privilege, and how important it is for someone who appears “normal” to everyday mainstream society to give back to the marginalized communities they identify with by coming out publicly as a member of that community.

Our lives, the way we live them, open possibilities for people around us. We are role models, whether we like it or not. Our silence will keep us where we are. Telling the truth about our values, our chosen families, will shift the dialogue, will create change.
–Tristan Taormino

I am certainly a privileged person. I am white. I am a cisgendered woman. I have attended college. I live in a city that is defined by its acceptance of everyone. I am not in danger of losing a job, my boyfriend, or my friends by speaking about my experiences and who I am, though I do remain both nervous and terrified of my family’s reaction.

I have been the direct beneficiary of the bravery of so many other people in the marginalized communities I identify with, and yet I have refused to speak publicly about my membership in these communities. So, as I take a deep breath, I am going to come out to you all. Right now....

...I have answered Tristan’s call to action, and I am now issuing one of my own. It is so incredibly important that those of us who have the privilege of appearing mainstream to publicly proclaim our membership to the marginalized, demonized, and ostracized communities who have given us so much. Showing to the world that “normal” people are a part of these communities, that members aren’t some scary nebulous “other”, will pave the way for acceptance. Stop hiding in a closet and being ashamed of who you are. Come out. Our world will be brighter when you do.

And now the bad news: OpenSF is not happening next year. Pepper has announced,

We want to let you know that OpenSF WILL NOT COME BACK NEXT YEAR.... Awesome conferences take a lot of work to produce, so we are going to take at least a year to re-group and re-plan.

Were you there? Leave your impressions in the comments.

Update: The Life on the Swingset podcast folks recorded the session they gave on Progressive Swinging, and they've made it into Swingset Episode #77. Listen here (59 minutes).


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Blogger pepomint said...

Here's a piece on OpenSF by the Bay Guardian, a local alternative weekly: http://www.sfbg.com/sexsf/2012/06/14/your-love-open-sf-conference-teaches-showcases-polyamorous-community

June 15, 2012 2:24 AM  
Anonymous Sham Rock said...

There's got to be a way to keep the energy of this thing going, other than just planning for the next con (which isn't happening next year!!). A shame to let it die out. This almost reminds me of the start of Burning Man. (The legend anyway - I wasn't there.)

June 15, 2012 12:11 PM  

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