Things Learned During My Time at OpenCon
This weekend (11 -13th October, 2013), I had the greatest pleasure in attending opencon at Osho Leela in Gillingham, Dorset. I have been pushing information about it for a while so I will just stick with a very brief description: Two days of surrounding yourself with people who believe in non monogamy, set in a very peaceful environment and attending workshops with people who have a similar inclination to you.
Arriving on the first day was intense. The actual house is a small mansion and it feels like you could easily get lost if you didn’t know where you were going. I overheard the names of a couple of the rooms, things like ‘Griffindor’ finding it amusing as I pictured young wizards and moving stairwells. We (my partner and I) were in a very priveledged position of having been assigned to a cabin, due to one of our friends dating one of the organisers.
The cabins themselves are beautifully laid out, with a kitchen area, sofa slash pull out beds, three rooms with beds large enough to house three to four people each and a balcony area. We returned to the main building after that and had dinner in the main hall but found that the seating was hard to come by, eventually grabbing the first two seats that became available. I think this arrangement facilitated communication for most people as there was no ‘this is our table’ feel, as you would expect to see in most restaurants. Following dinner there was a welcome workshop, designed to offer advice to both facilitators and participants on ‘encouraged participation behaviour’.
We learned about hand gestures, how to be considerate of people’s triggers, etc and I managed to meet ‘Alan’ who was representing modernpoly.com. We got to talking and he told me he was going to be running a workshop in my cabin the next day, where I was planning to run a couple too.
In the evening, as much as I want to say that we joined in the festivities, my partner and I were just too tired from the day and headed to bed, though not before vowinging to use the sauna the next day.
Well the next day came and we all headed off to breakfast, nicely slotting in with my usual alarms, after which people bustled into the foyer to plan their day. I knew that I wanted to take the first hour to spend time with my partner but after that I wanted to visit the ‘touch’ workshop: using non verbal and verbal queues to express yourself.
Initially I was sceptical of it, but I know that I sometimes feel that I can come off as being very closed off with my body. We began with some beckoning games. Beckon your partner forward, have them stop, tell them to back away, all in silence, all as feels right. We were then switched up so that it was not the person we began with and here comes the first thing I learned…
Instantly I felt my shields go up. I had beenpartnered with Wolf initially and was lucky enough to be switched to our friend Toby, but he started out as the beckoner and as I got closer to him, my coping mechanism of resorting to humour kicked in and I had to physically look away and control myself not to break into giggle fits. I felt to out of place being that close to him, which is strange. I know Toby, we speak every month, we hug and he flirts with Wolf, but being in a situation where I was required to follow orders without question and being so close to him put me in an emotional ‘distance yourself’.
But when the roles switched and I became the beckoner, no such problems. I could get him as close as nearly couching noses with no sense of fear. Lesson 1: I do not like being physically close to people without feeling that I have either an elememt of control over the situation.
The workshop went on, with touching different parts and being met with a “no.”, with the hand removed, followed by a series with “Yes.” and a confirmatory touch, (though still with the option of a no if you did not feel comfortable) followed by a touch, a confirm or a deny and a modification, so if they started touching your stomach, you could welcome the touch but move it to your chest or thigh, etc.
The final piece was a freeform walk around, touching, cuddling, high fiving, etc. Boom. Panic.
The idea of a room full of people touching me, hugging me, brushing past me, bumping into me…
Lesson 2: I have a trigger.
…closed me up. I had flashbacks to club nights where I have been jostled and pushed, crammed into tiny spaces, unable to see, unable to hear, unable to breathe. Flashbacks to potholing where I have been too large to fit through certain crevices and have been left in the caverns for a short time while the rest of the group explores, with little winged things flitting past my head, the knowledge that scorpions could be right behind me, unable to see, hearing affected by the bats, unable to get a real breath of air due to the heat and humidity.
I felt helpless and out of control, but I pushed it back, I made three passes around the room, really did push myself. I know I should have felt proud for pushing my boundaries, but the panic outweighed it. I could feel it at the end of the class and joined hands: a tension in my left, holding a stranger’s hand. I had previously thought that my panic in these situations came from not enjoying the culture of clubs: too loud, too close, too many people, etc. But now that I have experienced this reaction in a safe, controlled environment with all these wonderful, intelligent and dare I say, attractive people, I realise that the problem is not an external one, it is an internal one.
The next workshop was mine: Poly and technology, how we can use technology in every area of dating and lessons which should not be forgotten. I will type up a close transcript as soon as possible and post it here, but a question came up:
How or where do you meet poly people online?
Everyone had heard the same advice of “OKCupid is really useful for poly people,” but everyone who had tried it agreed that it was rubbish.
Lesson 3: nobody knows where to meet poly people.
The problem is that while the system is great, other people have been flooding in and if they see “non monogamy”, assume that the women just want to have meaningless sex. The women in the group admitted to becoming jaded or having so many messages that they may not even see the ones from genuine guys. The guys then become jaded because they don’t get responses even though they are genuinely trying to find people.
The question arose again in the next talk: balancing work and poly, for those who class work as a primary. Again, everyone was jaded and the consensus was that there is no good way to meet poly people. I made notes to try and see about creating a resourse.
This class though was very interesting. The talk of meeting people almost came from a standpoint of “we’re toobusy to meet people in the real world, the internet is supposed to make these things easier, but the tools do not work.” it was a class of people who would work 60 or 70 hour weeks or took on many projects (like me: scientist, entrepreneur and spokesperson for polytical) and I came away with the impression that some felt that there needed to be more *non monogamy specific* resources.
Lunch was served and the usual rush n crush as people tried to find seating. People seemed to have started connecting properly, but I felt that I had not really met anyone to even talk to.
Lesson 4: I need to make time to find and talk to poly people.
After lunch I made my way to Alan from modern poly’s workshop about solo poly and relationship activism. He had booked it for the cabin which honestly has space to seat 8-10 people comfortably, but when I got in, there were about 25.
Lesson 5: sometimes you are in the right place at the right time.
Straight off the bat, people are discussing things which are relatively new concepts to me: the relationship escalator, the concept of referring to partners without labels and then something which really caught my attention:
“Couple centrism” and “Polynormativity”. I have never really thought through these concepts in any real depth, but I have sometimes felt that there is a certain expectation from Wolf within my relationship to be a couple, to have that “we were here first” privilege, that heirarchy. And so I asked: How do you fight the creep of couple centric behaviour within a relationship?
I am still unsure as to how to combat it, but the most wonderful question was asked in response: “What would happen if you treated your friends like partners and your partners like friends?” mind blown, still putting it back together.
After that, I needed some time to unwind. The touch workshop was still weighing heavy on my mind as were a few personal issues that I have been experiencing lately (I failed to communicate some stuff and as a result am trying to work extensively on ensuring I have my skills at poly level to ensure that it does not happen again.) and so, I spent an hour with Wolf and then an hour of me time finishing up the last article I posted and getting centred.
After that, there was a cuddle party in the main house. I love the concept of a cuddle party. I want to attend a cuddle party, I want it to be the thing which helps me to get past the touch panic I have. But not tonight. Tonight I was going to the sauna.
Lesson 6: clothing optional saunas are a lot more comfortable than previously assumed.
Ok. I am a relatively big guy and have some body issues. Not many, but some. I love my body 90% of the time but the thought of being judged because of my body size, flacid penis length, excess body hair or thinning head hair reverts me back to high school me. Not tonight though: Wolf had some trepidation and I was freshly centred. We used my calmness and comfort to go in and surround ourselves with equally naked people.
It was brilliant. Therevwas no feeling of insecurity, no feeling of being judged, nothing perverse about the experience at all. In the heat and the half-light, the stress and worry just melted away and while there were a couple of points where I noticed myself observing other people and their bodies, I’m so happy to say that this came from a place of envy for the traits that the other people displayed: I wish I had her confidence with people/his legs/multiple loved ones cuddling me.
An hour of this and talking over various subjects before Wolf and I were once again ready to go to bed. All in all, a wonderful day.
Sunday arrived too quickly, with the comfotrtable bed and the lack of any minute level of stress. Breakfast was much quieter as we were among the first to arrive, but we got to talking to a few people who informed us of another opencon type event, which we shall be planning for… Then we headed back to the cabin to prepare for our departure later. Workshops later were an open writing session, where I penned up ideas for polytical articles and themes, with the background sound of certain polys being amorous (wink) followed by our hosting a game of cards against humanity.
It was a stark contrast to the rest of the weekend. With everyone tiptoeing around triggers and finding the exact way to communicate a specific concept, I found that giving them the opportunity to be offensive, crude, non-politically-correct and so on allowed them the space to get these things out of their system and brought them to a medium point ready to re-enter the reality away from this warm and safe environment.
Lastly, we attended a rope workshop, where I demonstrated the ‘kinky’ of ‘KinkyCon’, teaching the class a basic full body tie and double coin knots. Amazing fun.
This was followed by final checks of the cabin where our housemates were doing their final checks and having a chat. We spoke about a specific preconception that we had run into: many people had been put off the idea of Osho Leela because of the image of a very religious feel or ‘hippy’ inclination, but with the exceptions of everybody having to help with washing up after a meal and all of the food being vegetarian, there was no pushing of beliefs on the participants. Yes, they were cuddly, but they didn’t force it upon anyone, they spoke of tantra and suggested that I try it, without it being a sales pitch type of conversation, there was reading material, but it was in the office and in discreet places wo as not to intrude.
Anyway, many more goodbyes and exchanging of details, then down to the town for a chinese and couple of drinks with Wolf before our train home where I currently sit writing this.
Lesson 7: I want more.
With a lack of a 2013 polyday, this has been a welcome opportunity to connect and meet other poly people (which I admit, I could have tried harder to do, and will focus on in the future) and one which I can’t wait to experience again.