I have been dividing my time this weekend between two conferences: an academic conference by day, and the Atlanta Polyamory Weekend in the evening.
(I can't help but put this in comic-book terms: "By day, a mild-mannered academic; by night . . . !")
Each conference has, in its own way, been unsettling.
The academic conference was unsettling in a way that all good academic conferences should be: challenging assumptions, revealing new questions, shaking me out of complacency and opening up possibilities for understanding and for creativity. It also added substantially to my reading list for the next few months.
The poly weekend is unsettling in a very different way, revealing aspects of a particular corner of the self-described poly "community" that strike me as problematic, leading me to wonder if I really want to be associated with such a community.
To be fair, there is much that has been good in my experience of the poly weekend. Some of the presenters are smart, down-to-earth people who have thought about and lived polyamory very attentively.
Also, to be fair, my response to the poly weekend may just be a function of me being uptight again, or feeling out of place in an unfamiliar context, or coming too close to old traumas and limitations.
I'm still processing all of this, trying not to draw conclusions too soon. Rule 2 (from the post, above) is now in force: I'm assuming I'm wrong about something, that I'm missing something.
Still, as part of that processing, I wanted to start to list some of the things that have been bothering me.
1. I've heard, from Nyx and others, that this particular group has a wide streak of heteronormativity, and I've seen some evidence of that. Most of those in attendance seem to be either straight men or bi women. While the organizers have clearly made an effort to include more LGBTQ voices among the panelists, and to use gender-neutral language, I've seen and heard examples of overt homophobia.
One particularly striking instance of this was during the lesson that preceded the dance last night. Two of the guests at the meeting are, among other things, very fine ballroom dancers. They taught cha-cha as a relatively easy ballroom dance that can be adapted to just about any context.
They made a real effort to avoid gendered language, referring to "lead" and "follow" rather than the traditional "gent" and "lady". Nevertheless, there was an individual who did not present as traditionally female - gender identity unknown, but in appearance biologically male - dancing the follow part. As usually happens, the instructors had the leads rotate to a new partner, from time to time, during the lesson. This particular individual was passed over once in the rotation, I assume because a man dancing lead did not feel comfortable dancing with a follow who did not present as a traditional female.
(I tell ya, gender is complicated!)
This lapse was pointed out to the instructors, but they were busy with other things and perhaps did not perceive the nature of the problem. In the next rotation, the individual in question was passed over again. I was across the room, and tried to draw attention to the problem. I was about to ask leave of my then partner to go dance with the other individual, but the individual fled the room, visibly upset, before I had fully made up my mind.
I think that individual was up against two separate things: the pervasive heteronormativity of the event, and the very powerful heteronormativity built into traditional dance forms. Fred always dances with Ginger, right? Still, it's a pity others present weren't more aware of the potential for a problem.
2. There seems to be a lot of emphasis on hooking up during the convention, and in descriptions of various poly adventures past and present; it's enough to suggest that casual sex is the norm, blurring the line between polyamory and polyf***ery. At the very least, there is a level of hedonism in play that I find distasteful: all urges must be satisfied, every attraction deserves to be consummated.
3. There is also some willingness to assume that monogamous people are somehow automatically regressive, or at least to be pitied. Some individuals have called this assumption into question, but not nearly enough of them. There are those at the meeting, including one prominent poly blogger, who seem to think polyamory is the inevitable, bright future of the human race, and that monogamy is on the wrong side of history. That strikes me as both naive and arrogant, as I really do think the institution of monogamy deserves a more serious evaluation, not just snide dismissal . . . and, in any case, it is an institution that will be very, very difficult to dislodge.
As I write this, I really do think there are a lot of cross-cutting factors that lead me to feel unsettled by the poly weekend. I'm not drawing any conclusions, yet, except that I might not go out of my way to attend next year.