Beyond the Love: the Midwest's Only Polyamory Conference, and One of the Best Anywhere
This past weekend (November 7-9, 2014), I had the good fortune to be able to attend Beyond the Love, a three-day polyamory conference in Columbus, Ohio with Gina, Jessie, and Amber. Jessie I attended the first-ever Beyond the Love last year, and were totally blown away. The organization did a great job putting together an engaging and enjoyable program, and they exceeded expectations yet again this year.
The con started on Friday night with an Intro to Poly orientation. My partners and I arrived shortly afterward, and participated in the human scavenger hunt meet & greet, which was a variation of what they'd done last year. They gave us a list of ~20 items such as "someone who has performed in a burlesque performance," "someone who can juggle (prove it!)," and "someone who has the same birth month as you." The idea was to get people talking to each other and asking questions, and it works great. Everyone got up from their seats and moved around the room, interacting with everyone else. It's a great idea, and I'd like to see it used more often.
Opening ceremonies were next, where Sarah Sloane gave a terrific keynote. Highlights included:
This was followed by a poly speed mixer. We were all divided up by our dominant love language, and sat across from each other. After a few minutes, one side would shift down a seat. I got to meet a bunch of interesting people. Between the scavenger hunt and the speed mixer, I'd somewhat effortlessly been able to meet a good portion of my fellow attendees, which is always appreciated by out-of-towners like me.
The BtL staff also did two other things to encourage flirting amongst the attendees. First, they offered red, yellow, and green stickers that attendees could put on their badges to indicate that they were open to flirting, unsure, or were not open to flirting. I sometimes worry that those kinds of systems can backfire, but this one seemed to work well, and nobody (that I know of) took a green sticker to mean that consent wasn't important.
The other innovation was the flirt board! Attendees could write their name on an envelope and tack it to the flirt board. Anyone else could write something on a scrap of paper and drop it in their envelope. It's an incredibly simple system, but people had a lot of fun with it, and it was a very low-pressure way to signal interest in friendship, flirting, or any kind of interaction with a person.
After the opening ceremony was the relationship styles summit, where the staff put balloons around the social space with different relationship styles on them. You could hang out at the balloon that represented your style, or you could go around and try to learn about other styles. It was kind of a cool idea, and I had fun hanging out at the relationship anarchy balloon and fielding people's questions.
The last activity for Friday was a burlesque show, by Big Girl Burlesque. I only caught the first few numbers, but Jessie saw the whole thing and loved it. After the show, I was able to spend some time with some new friends and some friends that I'd met last year. I didn't get to sleep until 4am.
Saturday, classes started at 9am. I attended Billy Holder's class "Coming Out Poly - Why?" Billy runs Atlanta Poly Weekend, and was recently featured on several news outlets. He told us about what coming out meant for him, and what it might mean for us. I've been out for years, so I didn't need to be convinced, but I really liked Billy's message. Highlights included:
For the next sessions, I jumped around between a few classrooms. I started in "Poly as an Avenue for Growth" from Michelle Vaughn. She had some good things to say about how nonmonogamy can inform our values and change us as people. Then I jumped over to "For the Love of Labels: What Does it Mean to be Poly?" from Dr. Antoinette Izzo. I was only there briefly, but it ended up being one of my favorite parts of the con. Dr. Izzo discussed how labels can mean something to us on multiple levels, reflecting knowledge, feelings, identify, and practices. I often struggle to identify with people's attachment to labels, and Dr. Izzo was able to shed some light on that for me.
Next, I went to Jessie's presentation: "Healthier Hierarchies & Communicating Compatibility." This was a two-part class exploring hierarchies in relationships and how they affect our partners. Part two was focused on metamour relations. Some highlights:
After Jessie's presentation was my presentation on OkHacking: OkCupid for the Polyamorous. I've done it a few times before, including a Beyond the Love last year. It went well, apart from a few brief technical difficulties getting the projector to work (I've since ordered a TouchPico, so I shouldn't have those problems in the future). If you're not familiar, it's in written form here.
After the class session, VIP ticket holders were invited to eat with the presenters, then there was an evening program where people were invited to ask any questions they liked of the presenters. The audience didn't seem to have many questions, but such is life. We then moved on to Rent a Presenter! Staff and presenters had been given "Love Bucks" at the start of the weekend, and were encouraged to hand them out for good deeds, participation, and otherwise beneficial behavior. Saturday evening, attendees could use their Love Bucks at an auction to rent a presenter for a 15-minute Q&A session. It was a cute idea, and people had fun with it. I volunteered (of course), an I was rented by a very cool woman going by "Snu Snu." I traded her OkCupid tips for Muay Thai instruction.
Saturday night was the masquerade ball, which finally gave us an excuse to wear the Carnivale masks that Jessie and I got for everyone in Venice on our honeymoon. The ball was great. The dance floor was in heavy use, song selection was good, and everyone seemed to have a great time. Afterward was more socializing. This time, I stayed up until 5am.
Sunday had some great-looking classes at 9am... but they were at 9am, so there was no way that was happening for me. At 10:30, I gave my Relationship Anarchy presentation. I had a great audience (standing room only!), and after a few more projector difficulties, the workshop went great. This was the first time I'd done that one, and I wasn't satisfied with how my RA presentation went in Atlanta, so I was nervous. It ended up going very well, the audience seemed engaged, and I had a few people tell me afterward that it really gave them a lot to think about. If you're curious, my writing on the topic is here, my presentation slides are here, and a Relationship Anarchy Facebook discussion group is here.
We had an 8-10 drive ahead of us, so we had to go shortly after my presentation. On the weekend, I had only two small disappointments: first, nobody presented on consent culture. Polyamory as a community is still in its infancy, and now is the time that we're going to decide what kind of community we're going to be. Top priority for me is that we end up being a consent-focused community. There was some great discussion of what that would mean at Atlanta Poly Weekend, and I was disappointed that Beyond the Love didn't include it.
Second, most of the classes that I and my partners attended seemed rather beginner-level. Nothing was exactly Poly 101, but there also wasn't a lot that was that informative to someone who's been active in the community for 4+ year (though I did find Dr. Izzo's class on labels to be very relevant). Next year, I'd love to see some more advanced concepts that assume the audience is familiar with more intro-level ideas. I'm already trying to think of presentations I could give that would appeal to the more experienced crowd.
All in all, it was a fantastic weekend, and I'm still riding a bit of the con high. I got to see some old friends, I made a lot of new friends, and I got to spend the weekend talking, communing, and flirting with like-minded people. I would recommend it to anyone who can make it next year.