Thursday, February 14, 2013

MBLGTACC part 2: Polyamory and Politics

 Part 1 is here

A few more days out from MBLGTACC 2013, the Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Ally College Conference, I'm ready to took another look at the conference and assess feelings that aren't just longing to return. It wasn't a perfect conference, as much as I loved it, and although it was the most inclusive of Polyamory of any MBLGTACC I've attended that also left more room open for things to go wrong. So with a queer movie night behind me (Watched "Together" and apparently Scandinavian comedies are based around the idea that if as many people as possible are miserable it must be funny for SOMEONE and romances universally mean always going back to the man that hit you) I'm ready to tackle the Polyamory workshops and caucuses, how they worked, how they didn't, and what they could have done. 

I've started adding handy labels to posts to designate the level of understanding you'll need to have of a specific community to jump right into a topic. This way I won't have to be as extensive with providing definitions for terms I've covered before in each new post. If you're coming here for a Socialist perspective for example (which I really am going to get to extensively once the MBLGTACC stuff is properly wrapped up) but aren't really familiar about Queer identity or Polyamory, there are some articles you should check out before others will make sense to you, and vice-versa. So introductory posts that explain issues entirely from scratch get labeled as "Basics" while in-group topics will be labeled with "Intermediate" and theory that is deep in-group will get an "Advanced" tag. If you don't know much about Polyamory feel free to check out my What is it? Polyamory article (now updated to include more readings on the subject) and some of the linked websites before trying to understand this post.

This was the first year of my attending MBLGTACC that they were hosting Polyamory workshops and I made sure to make it to all of them. One of the first set of workshops at the conference was Polyamory: A Consensual Alternative to Traditional Monogamy presented by Eddie Rich, midway through Saturday was a workshop called Poly-tics hosted by Kelsey Friemoth and aimed at Polyamorists as well as Polysexuals (Bisexuals, Pansexuals, or others that have attraction to more than a single gender), and a Polyamory identity caucus which allowed Poly people to get to know each other and discuss important issues in a more organic format. Three events focusing on one identity, including one of the limited number of caucuses, is an impressive offering from the conference. Eddie Rich mentioned during the first event that they had discovered their own Polyamory at an event at MBLGTACC more than three years ago and it seems to have been the only workshop in that time to discuss it. So this has been a big jump and I want to say how much I appreciate the MBLGTACC planning coalition for allowing Poly people the opportunity to represent ourselves and for including an accurate and respectful definition in your glossary of terms, and to the heads of workshops and caucus facilitator that gave us a voice.

That said, some of the events raised concerns worth addressing. Eddie Rich's Polyamory workshop was thoughtful, covered basics of Polyamory while also getting into more advanced ideas, and they were incredibly quotable. The event was worth it if only for their amusing descriptions and explanations of ideas and earned even more points for being really informative. So it was saddening when Eddie spoke from an informed and authoritative position on the seeming disposable nature of secondaries. "Extracurricular Activities" may not sound quite as hierarchical as "secondary" but it still implies they're the people you drop when they start taking up too much of your time with your primary. Some secondary relationships are purely sexual, some of them are romantic and just aren't as close as the ones between two primaries, but all of them are real relationships and deserve the same level of consideration as any relationship between two people. As the workshop progressed there was a little more time to flesh out the reality of primary-secondary interaction but it was still a dark spot in an otherwise fantastic talk.

Poly-tics wasn't fantastic. The workshop was described in the MBLGTACC guidebook as follows:
Polyamory is when a person experiences the ability of loving more than one person. Polysexuals are people who identify themselves as capable and willing to be attracted emotionally, physically, and romantically to more than one sex. Social norms dictate that both of these are ambiguous and therefore undesirable. In this workshop, we will explore why that is and how we still conform to these norms within the LGBT community. 
 Based on the last couple lines of the description and the name being a play on politics, it seemed reasonable to assume Poly-tics would cover some of the politics of the LGBTQ community as they related to Polysexual identities and Polyamory. For those that don't know these are topics of major importance. The erasure of Bisexual identity in Gay and Lesbian spaces is a tragic but common experience, Pansexuality gets the same treatment and doesn't even make it into the acronym, and Polyamory throws a monkey wrench into the concept of "marital equality" as Gay rights organizations attempt to frame it. We have a lot of ground to cover when it comes to politics. None of this came up. The actual presentation portion of the workshop was around 30-40 minutes out of an hour and half, and focused almost entirely on defining the terms being used. Only a single token reference to "stereotypes sometimes come from within the community as well" touched on the potential politics of Poly-tics.

I can't really blame the presenters for the way Poly-tics fell apart. One of the problems our community has is that it still hasn't found its voice. We've gotten used to presenting Polyamory on a 101 basis and explaining how people can have this kind of relationship but we haven't steeled ourselves to deal with the fact that our relationships are still illegal in the eyes of the state. Instead we've sat on the sidelines of the Gay and Lesbian rights movement peering in, often without an understanding of the much more radical approach that paved the way for the current generation of gradual legislative victories. Rather than asserting our own voice as a community we've been content to live our lives and express our loves as if our own relationships were a casual side project to the more important rights work of our other identities. So what is it you say when a room of Polyamorous people comes to talk about politics? Many of us don't even know where to begin.

I hope to start changing the trend of Polyamory being talked about as if it exists in a vacuum outside of other rights struggles on this blog, in my own community, and hopefully at the next MBLGTACC. Our rights and needs are as important as any and we need to recognize this. On that note, my final MBLGTACC post will be on the subject of the conference identity caucuses, including the Polyamory caucus, and the subject of ally inclusion.

Part 3 is here

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