Room For Growth
I usually spend Memorial Weekend at The Heartland Polyamory Conference (HPC) just outside French Lick, Indiana at Our Haven Nature Sanctuary--178 acres of sacred land where diversity isn’t just tolerated but is celebrated. I was disappointed when I learned that the conference wasn’t taking place this year. I would miss the heart-felt and thought provoking discussions among a diverse group of polyamorous and polycurious people from communities throughout the Midwest and beyond.
It is so helpful for polyamorists to come together and share about our experiences. Most of us are learning as we go with limited access to information and support beyond books and the Internet, so sharing with one another about what has and hasn’t worked for us is very useful. I’m lucky to have access to a very active local poly support and networking group, but I still love expanding my community and hearing from more perspectives.
In addition to the uplifting sense of community at HPC, the weekend affords me an amazing connection with nature. I camp near a running stream in the clothing optional section (sunscreen and shade not so optional). I feel an inspiring sense of freedom when I am there.
Last year, I had the opportunity to interact with people who were on the land but were not involved with the polyamory conference who happened to be swingers. I found myself on the receiving end of assumptions because I’m bisexual and polyamorous. Couples I had just met were inviting me to connect with them sexually. I politely declined and tried to take the opportunities to educate them about how and why that is not in line with my personal pursuit of polyamory. Yet my unwavering assertions were actively ignored, and I got to see how strongly stereotypes can influence people’s behaviors even when they are contrary to what is actually taking place. I realized I had been naïve to assume that if I am honest and transparent that I would be believed.
I felt more sad than annoyed. It seems as though authenticity is so unexpected that it sometimes isn’t acknowledged nor taken seriously. I have found it frustratingly difficult to find people who really say what they mean, and mean what they say. Polyamory must include honesty or it isn’t responsible and consensual—all hallmarks of this multifaceted love-style.
As a polyamorist, I find myself dealing with a lot of the same stereotypes and assumptions that I have been dealing with for the last two decades as an out and proud lesbian who now identifies as bisexual. Except, ironically, my struggle for acceptance now exists within the LGBT community, as well. Yet it is these last 20 years as an LGBT community member that has primed me for my poly-activism as I continue with a purposeful determination to fully own my sexuality and my individuality.
Pursuing polyamory has been a fast track of self-discovery. It has helped me to identify judgments and assumptions that I still hold on to. I clearly have judgments and stereotypes about swingers. I admit, I have a problem with sexually active people being unsafe, and I have yet to meet a swinger who isn’t engaging in risky behavior while being nonchalant or in denial about it. Yet I don’t want to assume that that’s the case for all swingers. I have to be careful not to engage in the same kinds of generalizing and stereotyping that I am encouraging others to move beyond.
I am admittedly protective of the word polyamory, which is vastly misunderstood and often misrepresented. There is some crossover between the polyamorous and swinging communities, but what someone else considers to be polyamorous, may not meet my definition. Although I desire to be part of an inclusive community, I unfortunately find myself wanting to exclude those whose behaviors fall outside of my interpretation of polyamory. So, I too have my work cut out for me. After all, we can have our own definitions and applications. What is important is that we clearly define our intentions with our partners; we don’t have to get involved with someone else’s variation of polyamory that is not in line with our individual paths.
The ample opportunities for self-growth facilitated by a polyamorous life-style have always been a big draw for me. I feel more compelled than ever to continue cultivating an inclusive community based on honesty and mutual respect, and to speak my truth in the most loving and respectful way possible. Hopefully, further opening hearts and minds along the way, mine included.