Folks have asked me to put a copy of my Poly Pride keynote speech online, so here it is.
Poly Pride Keynote
October 4, 2008
Thanks to Polyamorous NYC for hosting this and all the other events this weekend in celebration of Poly Pride, and especially to Birgitte and Lyndell for inviting me to be here, and Antonia, Justen, Patrick, Rich, and Mark for their organizing efforts.
When I was researching my new book on open relationships, I read the classic 1973 book Group Marriage by Larry and Joan Constantine, which was based on interviews with people all over the U.S. who were living in group marriages. Back then, the Constantines found their first interview subjects through a very loosely organized group that published a newsletter called “The Harrad Letter” and held sporadic meetings somewhere in New England. From there, the couple tracked people down through word of mouth, even innuendo and gossip. They followed up every lead they got by writing letters to people asking them to participate in their study. Then, they packed up their Volkswagen Squareback and made six cross-country trips in three years to talk to these people. It’s pretty remarkable to think that they had the courage to literally drive to the homes of complete strangers, knock on their doors, and talk to them about something no one was talking about back then.
Thirty five years later, here we are in Central Park, and looking out into this crowd today, obviously a lot has changed. People interested in consensual non-monogamy have many resources at their disposal, and we no longer have to drive cross country to find each other. This is due in large part to the work of educators and activists within the growing polyamory movement. But while we can connect, network, and support each other, there is still a great deal of misunderstanding about our relationships. Many of us cannot be open with our loved ones about our lives for fear of being ostracized or discriminated against. We face ignorance and hostility because we dare to challenge two intertwined institutions: marriage and monogamy.
Marriage as we know it is changing. Conservatives would say it’s under attack, under fire. I say it’s just under construction. And hopefully, this fall on Election Day, we can also say it’s under new management. Queer people are at the forefront of the movement to re-define marriage right now, and unfortunately—with typical divide-and-conquer tactics—the Right Wing has pitted queers and polyfolk against one another. Conservative Stanley Kurtz said “Among the likeliest effects of gay marriage is to take us down a slippery slope to legalized polygamy and ‘polyamory.’ Marriage will be transformed into a variety of relationship contracts, linking two, three, or more individuals (however weakly and temporarily) in every conceivable combination of male and female.” As if that is a bad thing? Celebrating more love and more commitments between consenting adults?
Some gays and lesbians have responded to the charge of the “slippery slope” by calling it ridiculous, but others have defended gay marriage by denouncing polyamory. What about those of us who are queer and poly? Queers and polyfolk have a lot in common, and we need to recognize the ways we can help each other. Queer people must stand up and say we believe in the rights of everyone to love, commit to, and marry whomever they want. We must not throw polyamory under the bus in favor of advancing queer marriage rights.
We need to listen to each other and learn from each other. The polyamory movement can learn a lot from the GLBT movement. The poly community must strive to be an INCLUSIVE community. We cannot turn our backs on poly swingers or solo polyamorists or that one really slutty poly friend we all have. We cannot shrug off monogamous folks who want to be our allies. We need to embrace all those people around us who are challenging monogamy in some way and who believe in the rights of people to protect their relationships, whatever form they take. And we need to find a way to change the climate in this country, by creating community to foster a larger awareness and understanding of multi-love relationships.
People ask me a lot, “What did you learn from the people you interviewed for Opening Up? What do they all have in common? What makes open relationships work?” There are some common principles. Honesty. Self awareness. Trust. Communication. Boundaries. Commitment.
And this may be what is scariest of all to our enemies: we practice what they preach. We have values. We have many of the exact same values they that they claim over and over we don’t. Values is such a loaded term, it has become laced with religion and morality and the conservative right wing has tried to equate values, like family values, with a heterosexual, 2-parent, married, nuclear family. We need to reclaim the word values. We need to rip it out of the hands of pundits and bigots and stand up to defend OUR polyamorous values.
Our society is poised to change dramatically in the next decade. Like other minorities before us, polyamorous people need to come out when it’s safe to do so and educate our loved ones, our neighbors, our doctors and others around us about our lives. We need to tell our stories. I’ve had the privilege to hear the stories of hundreds of people in non-monogamous relationships. Like Leslie from Minnesota whose two husbands supported her through chemotherapy after she was diagnosed with cancer. Or Cat in Oklahoma, who lost custody of her children for being polyamorous. Or a poly circle of four in the Pacific Northwest who have owned a house and raised their kids together for over fifteen years. We must speak our truths. If we don’t tell the world who we are, people are left to imagine, to fall back on stereotypes, to create fictions which don’t represent us.
Larry and Joan Constantine took a leap of faith thirty five years ago and started knocking on doors to find others like them. We need to take a cue from them and start busting down some doors of our own. If we join together, support each other, and increase our visibility, we can only get stronger. And we need our strength because WE are at the forefront of those who will redefine love, commitment, and family in this century.