*(Fear of Missing Out)
By Maria Padhila
How many times have you settled down on a Saturday evening for a fun game of Sex Toy Bingo with your triad, only to sigh to yourself, “Wow, this would be a lot more fun if there were more than just the three of us!”
Well, maybe you never have. But you’ve probably had analogous thoughts sometimes. You’ve wondered why things couldn’t be a little more fun, or you can’t meet the people who really like the things you do, maybe.
And to tell you the truth, it’s never happened to me, either. Mostly because I just made up the whole Sex Toy Bingo thing. I don’t think such a game really exists, but it sounds like it would be fun, doesn’t it?
Maybe I should make it up myself, if it sounds so fun — and then find some people to play it with. And that is my point — if you want a poly gathering that fits your needs and desires, make one. Like Burners and Pagans and a bunch of similar intersecting groups, polyamorous people not only respect the Do It Yourself ethic but do it. Don’t say: “I wish there were some poly people around here to play with, but there aren’t any…” Even on the lone prairie, they are out there. And you can rope them in with the right events.
This doesn’t mean that if you’re out there on your lonesome, whether it’s in the middle of East Hicksville or in the middle of a city, and you’re curious about polyamory, that you should put up a bunch of flyers with your address inviting people to a potluck. That might not work — or it might work too well.
The first thing to do is not to assume there’s nothing out there. Your first stops: the poly online magazines, and Meetup.com. Just do a search on ‘poly’ at Meetup, and you might be surprised by the variety. Also try simply Googling your region (perhaps in different forms, like “North Florida” and “Tallahassee”) along with polyamory. This will bring up things like email lists, local websites and so on.
In the DC area, the organizers are amazing. They have coordinated all sorts of interesting events being run by different groups, and work together to cross-promote, and on top of that, a few people with phenomenal energy seem to stay on top of it all. As a result, about three to seven event notices show up in my mailbox every day. And as a result, I suffer from major FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) because between love, child care, writing, health and working for the Man, I hardly get to do any of them.
But say there really is nothing out there — or nothing that appeals to you. Your job then is to talk to someone who’s done it before, whether in your own area or another, so you’ll create something that works.
So I decided to talk to Peppermint, last heard from here on the subject of ‘creepy’. (I know he was called Pepomint when he showed up in this column before. That’s just his email name. His REAL name is Peppermint.) He has been organizing events on the West Coast since 2003, and helped originate ‘poly speed dating’ events out there. Poly speed dating sounds infinitely complicated, the kind of thing that would require Stephen Hawking-esque math skills. But it also sounds like fun. The prime organizer in DC picked it up recently and has had two such events. For those unfamiliar with the concept, speed dating involves getting just a few minutes to get to know someone, then moving on to the next, and making a fast decision at the end of the session as to who you would like to see again. It’s like having five to 10 get-to-know-you coffee dates in one evening. Saves time.
Poly speed dating started out as a joke, but it snowballed into a reality. So as with everything creative, don’t discount your crazy ideas. And it also attracted some criticism, along the lines of ‘That’s so shallow! Why are WE doing the silly, shallow things that hetero/mono people do?’ I know the readers here will see what’s ridiculous about that attitude right away, as many poly people did. I try really hard to avoid the assumption that poly people have a more exalted conception about relationships and love, but not all poly people share that perspective.
To turn your crazy ideas into an event that can be celebrated and criticized, here are Peppermint’s ‘rules for social organizers’, with full caution that ‘your mileage may vary’:
1. Plan events you would like to do. If you’re not excited about it, why would anyone else be?
2. Your events will not be for everyone. That’s OK. Here’s the formula he developed from putting on club nights: “Any music you pick will piss off 80 percent of the population.”
3. Event organizing is a lot easier than it looks. There’s a skill set involved, but once you get it, it’s simple.
4. Failure is important: “The way you make good events is to make bad events, and then not do those anymore.” Also, don’t keep flogging if no one is into it — just let it go and create something else.
5. Publicity, publicity, publicity. Go beyond the local poly web — try flyers at the sex toy store, the pagan and sci-fi communities, LGBT bookstores — there’s a lot out there. Do the legwork and be creative.
If you’re in the San Francisco area, you could check out how well these rules worked for him at his non-monogamous dance club event. He’s also taking it up a notch with a new, big and very different kind of poly conference, called OpenSF, in June. I feel the FOMO rising.
His observation is that “when groups first begin forming in a formerly group-less region, they go through an era when the most important thing about us is that we’re poly.”
There’s a determination to hang out together despite differences, and that’s not a bad thing: “It’s great hanging out with this wildly different group of people,” he says.
But as time goes on, groups split off and form among those who share more things in common than their orientation. “Part of a movement is people can find who they’re really looking for,” he says. Yet he also acknowledges that it can be “painful” for people who started out in groups where they knew everyone and felt safe and supported to see this evolution.
Age is usually the first differentiator. There’s a perception out there that I’ve picked up — please be aware that I’m not attributing any of this to Peppermint; it’s what I’ve perceived — that the Old Head/Old School polys are more about the hippie/love/new age/liberal activism and the younger ones are more BDSM/fetish/casual sex friendly. The more damaging stereotype is that of the Creepy Old Guy going around making the younger women nervous. (It’s damaging because it assumes young women can’t assert themselves to stop attention they don’t like and because it assumes all older guys want is to ogle young girls, when they actually might want to ogle other old men, or be searching for true love, or looking for an investor for their new Sex Toy Bingo game, or just need new glasses.) Truth is, I’ve seen more than enough sweet young hippie chicks, glowering old leather men, and creeps of all sexes to go around at any age.
Nevertheless, if you see the term TNG or The Next Generation with an event, it usually means poly, swing or BDSM for people either under 30 or under 40, and this is a fairly common split-off.
I have to add that this splitting off doesn’t have to destroy diversity. Even though, because of my athletic interests and some other tastes, I think I might have more in common with a TNG group than the ‘old hippies’, I don’t resent the youngsters for making their own groups and freezing us out. The thing to do, obviously, is to start my own group if this bothers me enough, a group for older people with ‘younger’ tastes, or one for poly distance runners of all ages. (I have a feeling there won’t be enough members there for a good Sex Toy Bingo game, but you never know.) However, this age divide must be offensive to many, because TNG groups often have some kind of explanation on their sites or walls about why age is an issue and why they choose to make this division.
In fact, if you’re thinking about organizing in any way, you’d do well to check out Peppermint’s website content, in particular his exhaustive essay, “Age and Polyamory Organizing.” Because here’s what happened to him when he and his friend started holding age-limited poly groups:
I have gotten an incredible amount of crap from people in the community for holding these events. I have been accused of ageism endlessly. I have been through two email flame wars on local lists, and I expect more in the future. I have gotten emails from strangers filled with the kind of blind hate that we expect to see from right-wing nutjobs but not from each other. …
I have no issue with events that end up being by and for a specific age group. My problem is that we seem to have developed a blind spot around age. Because we have a roster of regular events, we assume that all age groups are being served by these events, when that is really not true. (Note that this sort of problem is not specific to age: we also have it around race, ability level, liberal versus conservative, and so on.) There is a sort of universalizing effect here: events that people think of as generically poly turn out to really be events for poly people in a particular demographic, and people in that demographic sometimes have trouble seeing who is missing, since they [themselves] are being well-served by local poly events.
He points out the purely practical reasons for age-based events — people need peer support. If younger people don’t have a place to go, the movement and the community could die out. And if older people don’t have a place to go, their institutional knowledge and experience could be lost.
What’s really interesting here is the “having trouble seeing who is missing” element. Sometimes, paradoxically, being ‘exclusive’ can be a way of keeping diversity alive. My feeling is that you can cut away some of the exclusionary factor through shaping groups around activities, though it may be uncomfortable to accept that your basic young, white, Log Cabin Republican (do they still have those?) probably won’t be attending the Poly Political Protest Puppet-Making Workshop, nor will it be highly likely that an over-50 African-American woman will be playing in the Poly Ice Hockey League.
But I’m from DC, and actually, here, all bets are off. I’m at something of a disadvantage when it comes to really understanding racial issues. Mostly it’s because I’m white, but it’s also because I grew up in a bubble — in the Washington area, where despite recent demographic moves, it still proudly wears the name “Chocolate City” (from Clinton — George, not Bill). On top of that, I grew up and spent my first decade of work in the region that is not only majority black but home to the richest, best-educated, professional black people in America. My parents and I worked where black people were not just colleagues, but our bosses, and this was and is normal around here. Interracial friendships and dating and marriages were normal, too. When I got out of the bubble, I had a lot of learning to do about the realities of racism, and I learn something new every day.
Even so, DC poly events, like other events in the area, are more likely to be more ‘naturally’ diverse than events I’ve been to in other places. It’s less so on the southern side of the river — over there, they’re waving trans-vaginal ultrasound probes and trying to pass ‘personhood’ legislation, while on the northern side, they’re welcoming same-sex marriage. There is a poly group for those in interracial relationships (and their events sound really interesting. FOMO alert!)
Peppermint points out that there are “soft” ways to create groups that have more natural affinities that don’t rule out the serendipitous contacts that come from mixing it up. Music choice is one. Or hold a late-night event, for instance, if you’re after a group with more energy — age becomes less important this way. Chris and I would attend, for instance, while some of our under-40 friends would opt for an early-morning yoga gathering instead.
Actually, I’d probably do both. And keep up that pace for a month or two and then spend a couple days unable to get out of bed. That seems to be how I roll.