Meeting European Activists and Remembering my Privilege – OpenCon Catalonia
The four organisers of OpenCon Catalonia had all attended the UK OpenCon last October and then decided to run something themselves – the idea had started as a joke, then snowballed, and suddenly it was late May, and I was arriving to a huge Catalonian house on a glorious Friday afternoon to meet them in person once again.
Late in the evening, we arranged benches outside and sat in a circle of forty people, wrapped in sweaters and holding wine glasses, to make introductions. Over dinner, I had met a couple of people who said they’d only recently heard of the idea of poly, had never met other poly people, and were here to find out more. I had been struck by their leap of bravery, and it was in this circle that the other stories really started to come out.
Several more people introduced themselves as having very recently discovered poly: they had tried monogamy and failed at it; they hadn’t known poly was an option; that it had a word and a community; or they had struggled through monogamous relationships feeling there was something wrong for years, before discovering that this was possible.
I heard from an Italian woman who had tirelessly run a meetup group of three people for several months before it had started growing, and some of the Italians and Catalonians talked about language barriers and wanting to translate websites and books into their native languages to make them more accessible. One woman spoke no English at all, but had come along regardless just to be in this environment. Most people were coming to their first or second poly event and had no regular space in which they could be out and among other poly folks, or had never met other poly people or been able to have open conversations about poly practicalities.
I heard from people who had come to the UK OpenCon and found it life-changing. Some of these were the organisers who had created OpenCon Catalonia, and were now helping other lives to change for the better, and there’s now talk of an Italian OpenCon coming soon. Many people praised the UK event, and the organisers thanked me for the long-distance help and encouragement in creating this one. I listened to the stories, and realised how important it is to create these spaces.
I felt massively humbled.
I feel like I have had it so easy.
I live in a bubble of accepting, feminist queers, where non-monogamy is commonplace. I have so much access to poly conversations and writings and events. I am out everywhere, I am twenty-four years old and experienced and knowledgeable and only went through one short monogamous relationship before working out it wasn’t for me. I am lucky. I have so much support. I have it so easy.
I’m very familiar with the UK poly scene. I see the same people coming to many events here, and I have the luxury to analyse this more, to talk about feminism, the problematic aspects of poly and our communities – here, I was reminded that most people do not have that luxury because they have so little poly space and opportunity in which to discuss that. Most of these people were still pouring all their energies into simply building up enough of a poly scene to hold a discussion. I am an event organiser and a writer, and I felt humbled to speak with these tireless activists.
The rest of the conference was absolutely gorgeous: wonderful Catalonian food; long conversations in the sunshine; jumping into the pool for a quick swim between workshops. Saturday, we all worked hard in non-stop, intense conversations on practical poly, activism, feminism and kink; and then partied hard into the night with dancing, playing with circus toys and late-night swimming. Sunday morning was a little slower – the craft workshop I hosted was an ideal space for slightly hung over, chilled-out conversations on parenting and being out, and it segued smoothly into a more formal workshop on labels and language.
All too soon, it was time for goodbyes, emails exchanged and promises made to follow up, be in touch, and collaborate on more projects soon. After a forest walk, a smaller, sleepy group stayed for the Sunday night, eating up leftovers and snoozing on sofas. I must have said goodbye in turn to almost everyone attending the conference, as it was all too soon that it was just myself and my travelling companion following two of the local organisers to a beach for lunch and a swim late on Monday morning.
We were – some of us, the first poly people that some of the attendees had met. I heard from first-timers that the conference, the experience of being in a space where they could talk openly about alternative relationships, was an utterly life-changing experience. For this particular veteran event organiser and conference junkie, the weekend was also life-changing. I was starkly reminded of my privilege in living in a queer, poly-friendly bubble, in a country with such a large poly scene that we could sell out a residential conference, and with a language that matched that of the majority of poly literature.
It was wonderful to meet the dedicated activists from other European cities at this event, many of whom were still trying to build up enough poly people to simply create a small local network. Their hard work is an inspiration, and I very much look forward to seeing what else our dispersed, strong and loving communities will create.