Family and Communication – Atlanta Poly Weekend 2016

I’m polyamorous, and for the past four years I’ve attended Atlanta Poly Weekend, a great education and activism conference all about ethical nonmonogamy. I’ve seen an interesting transition in my relationship to the conference over the years, one that I think is completely natural. In earlier years, I found the most value in the things I learned; in later years, I’ve found more and more value in the things I’ve taught.

Previous years have not just improved my understanding of polyamorous relationships; they’ve also helped me understand how to manage my own feelings, understand my identity, and improve all the communities I’m in. Some important takeaways have been:

  • Treat your past, present, and future selves as loved ones. Note down relationship red flags when you’re thinking straight so you can refer to them later when your judgment might be skewed. Do things for yourself just like you would for a loved one.
  • Recognize how privilege interacts with responsibility. As a member of a few marginalized groups who has the privilege to be able to be out and public, I feel that I have a responsibility to be an advocate for those groups. Likewise, when forming a community (for example, a poly group), it’s not enough to protect the safety of those in the group; we need to work to make sure newcomers stay safe until they can learn about potential dangers.
  • One’s life and relationships don’t need to fit into templates of expectations and assumptions. Frameworks like relationship anarchy can allow for a beautiful diversity of experiences, and understanding concepts like codependence and abuse can help make your interactions more open and nurturing.

This year, however, I found that I had fewer big takeaways. This is partly due to circumstances: I chose to attend some talks on topics I’d seen before, more of my partners and metamours were there than previous years, and I was in the midst of a nasty cough/sore throat/head cold. However, I think there’s also a certain saturation level you can reach in any specific community, where over time it has less to teach you and instead asks you to give back.

This was the first year I presented at APW. My spouse and I presented “An Introduction to Non-Violent Communication,” which was an overview of the NVC philosophy and communication process. It’s something that’s a huge part of how I view the world, and I was really happy to be able to share it with others.

I also had other opportunities to share with other attendees, whether it was providing queer 101 explanations to curious but ignorant attendees at queer-focused talks or hearing about the very cool PolyQ project to include queer-focused groups in the wider poly community. That former step is, I think, very important: while queer folks often practice polyamory, they seem much less inclined to participate in specific polyamory-focused communities in part because those communities tend to appear heavily white, hetero, cisgendered, and upper-class.

The closing keynote of the conference still has me thinking. It was by Ricci Levy of the Woodhull Freedom Foundation, on advocacy for U.S. government recognition of polyamorous unions through the reframing of “marriage” as a private union combined with a set of contracts, using as a justification Article 16 of the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I’m a huge advocate for radical social change, especially when it seems feasible, but I worry about approaches that seek to reframe the issues of marginalized people (like poly folks) as something palatable to the mainstream.

The US fight for marriage equality tended to focus on respectability and traditional concepts of relationships at the cost of minimizing the visibility of trans folks, queer folks of color, and other groups that made conservative Americans nervous. We need to make sure that we don’t do the same as we advocate for the freedom to choose our family structure. We can achieve legal measures that protect the stable, safe-looking triads and group marriages, but we still need to enact societal change to protect the children of solo polyamorists from being taken away or to ensure that you won’t lose your job for asking your new girlfriend to your company’s holiday party instead of your husband. I think that Woodhull’s approach is promising, but we can’t let it be the only approach we take.