Another view on OpenCon 2011
This was submitted by someone wishing only to be identified as “A.” We hope you enjoy it!
My experience as a first-time OpenCon participant was in some ways very similar to Karen’s but in others quite different, so I thought I would add my testimony, in case it may be useful to others.
Some background to provide context on my motivation to go to OpenCon: I have always felt polyamorous, but among the many wonderful people that have come into my life there was never someone else who felt the same. About a year ago (after stumbling across the concept of polyamory by chance) I started looking on OKCupid. I learnt polyamorous people do exist, but they are thin on the ground. I couldn’t find any near me, and travelling to meet a stranger felt weird. So I started googling for poly meetings. I reckoned they would have several desirable properties: multiply my options for finding people I might get along with; provide a less charged atmosphere than a one-to-one date; give me enough time to interact with people to understand if I wanted to continue in touch with them afterwards. So what I wanted from OpenCon was very clear: I wanted a relaxed environment where I could meet other poly people.
I found out about OpenCon 2011 around March and registered immediately. But until the very last moment I wasn’t sure if it was a good idea, and like Karen, I searched in vain for detail of what had happened in the 2010 meeting. I had two main concerns. The first was that the meeting would be full of people looking for a sex party, rather than interested in the concept of open and honest relationships. The detailed code of conduct at the meeting site both reassured me (“good, there are rules”) and not (“why do they need all these warnings?”), if that makes any sense. My second concern was that the meeting would be dominated by a spiritual flavour of polyamory. I gather many people find polyamory as part of a spiritual journey, which is absolutely fine but is not me. I worried I would felt out of place if OpenCon was mainly about sacred sexual healing, which had been a theme in the 2010 meeting.
I arrived to Osho Leela late afternoon on Friday, with a Plan B ready in case I wanted to leave earlier. People were hanging out, sipping tea, and I started the awkward ordeal of chatting with strangers. So, what brings you here? In retrospect, I realise those first chats were a bit like cross-examinations: I was trying to find out if people were really, really, polyamorous. Was that guy there just looking for easy sex? Was that couple in a healthy relationship or was one of them forcing the other to open up against their will? By dinner time I had relaxed. Everybody I talked to seemed genuine and interesting. The fun started.
What happened next were two days of one of the nicest environment I have ever experienced. Firstly, it was full of nerds. Someone had a t-shirt saying “Jesus saves, Buddha does incremental backups”. Someone sang about frustrating comment threads on the internet. Someone said a poem about debugging a computer programme. I was at home. What I like about nerds is that there is often a great depth of thought behind somewhat less-than-perfect conventional social interaction skills. But in a non-conventional, non-judgemental environment these personalities can shine, and shine they did. I am not sure if poly people are likely to more nerdy than average, but perhaps the first wave of polies is. In the same way that the first gay wave was disproportionately queer (presumably because they had more trouble hiding in the hetero world), perhaps poly nerds find it more difficult to deal with the ethical and logical incoherence of supposed monogamy, and perhaps they have less to lose because many are already socially-weird anyway.
Secondly, the meeting format allowed me to interact with a lot of people very easily. I didn’t necessarily acquire much new formal knowledge from the workshops, but they allowed me to interact with different sets of people, and in different ways. I did not become a better flirt with the workshop on flirting, but it gave me an excuse to interact playfully with two guys I would otherwise never approach, giving us a fun sense of complicity afterwards. Listening to the discussions at the poly & bi or the poly & kink workshops, or working with someone on their “emotional passport” in the communication workshop, gave me lots of insights into people’s personalities. Outside the workshops, there was plenty of space and time for informal chatting (meals around delicious food, comfy couches, tea and biscuits, nice outside tables), and I chatted away. Everybody had an interesting story. After 24 hours, the anonymous crowd had differentiated into familiar friendly faces. I never felt lonely, in need of escaping, or in any way harassed or threatened. It only downed on me later that I didn’t see anyone drunk, in fact I hardly remember seeing anyone drinking at all. I am really not good at social interaction with strangers, so I put it all down to the relaxed environment and the mix of interesting people.
Thirdly, there as a nice level of physical comfort. I love being physically at ease with people (e.g., hugging, holding arms), and as soon I make a personal connection with someone I get quite touchy (in a non-sexual way). But I am also hyper-sensitive to having my personal space invaded by strangers. I will confess that the first hugs felt awkward (even if they were not in any way imposed; proper consent was always requested), but as the meeting progressed and people become familiar and friendly, I started feeling more and more at ease. The BioDanza on the first evening was a lot of fun, and by the end of the second day I was perfectly happy to join the cuddle pile. The Angel Walk on the last day was pure bliss, to a point where I was emotionally moved by everybody’s sweetness.
So, as far as I am concerned OpenCon was just what the doctor ordered. I came back feeling happy and loved-up, and with a list of contacts of potentially great friendship material. More importantly, OpenCon made the concept of polyamory real to me. Before, I wasn’t really sure it existed anywhere outside my own head. I feared longing for relationships based on honesty, openness, and compersion was as unreasonable as a longing for the charming prince on the white horse. Seeing the lovely and loving interactions between partners at OpenCon showed me polyamory is real, and as beautiful as I hoped it would be. Thank you, everybody.