What Did You Learn?

This is the post I spoke of putting up on my last blog post, don’t know why it took me so long to get around to posting. I finished writing it a while ago! Anyway, as promised, here are those “things I learned from opencon”:

At Opencon I kept hearing that some people’s experiences of it had been “life changing”. In a way, I suppose I could say the same. It has got me thinking a lot about things in my everyday life and how I interact with people in a way that I’m sure will, in a quite literal sense, change my life. But the funny thing is, I don’t think it was necessarily the workshops that I went to that made the difference. Yeah they were interesting, and it was a lot of fun, and maybe I did learn a thing or two from the content of the discussions. In the end it was the experience, in and of itself, that taught me the most.

The fact that I was surrounded by so many people I respected, and wanted to respect me, meant that I felt quite under pressure from myself to be impeccable and not put my foot in it like I often do. Usually I give myself the excuse that “I don’t really care about these people, so if they judge me who gives?”, but I couldn’t do that here. I’ve been realising how big of an issue this can be for me in various situations, and this weekend it even brought up something between me and Night that we’ve never managed to resolve in the past. It seems like I have two conflicting complexes that mean sometimes I end up hating myself just a little. The first is connected to missed opportunities. I think this might have come from the way my dad has always pushed me into doing stuff right-now-or-you’ll-miss-your-chance. And upon reflection I’m seeing how some of those things weren’t very good ideas at all, and in fact might have been quite rude or awkward. And it seems like I still have that complex about missed opportunities that makes me do or say things that I shouldn’t on impulse. Over the years I’ve become more aware of when I do that, but it hasn’t stopped me from acting this way it’s just made me increasingly embarrassed of myself. And it’s got to the point where I don’t trust myself, and I don’t trust other people not to judge me as being as lacking in self awareness as my father is, just because of the impulsive bad judgement I express on occasion.

All this is just exacerbated by the fact that when I get insecure I overcompensate and act over-secure. So when people see me active over-secure they tend to try and take me down a notch – rather than giving me what I need which is to be reassured that it’s not as big of a deal as I make it out to be in my head. But every time I’m “taken down a notch” the issue gets bigger in my head. To the point where I need to hide away from everyone for half an hour after every time I say something even slightly inappropriate to someone I really like on a silly impulse.

So I guess this weekend I learned that 1) A lot of it is all in my head, 2) I can trust people, especially these people, to see past my blurting and not judge me on that alone, and 3) I can communicate this to other people because I’m definitely not the only one who worries about such things. I wonder how things might change, knowing all this. Definitely putting it in the User Manual. That’s for sure.

Ok what’s next? [checks list]

Ah yes. I’ve noticed that I can be quite impatient sometimes when it comes to flirting. And, though I wasn’t particularly flirting with anyone at opencon, I learned a lot about other people’s boundaries – other women’s in particular. And it hadn’t really occurred to me that being impatient and wanting to flirt with women I fancied straight away might be encroaching on their boundaries. It doesn’t always just mean that they’re not interested. It might just feel like a pressured scenario for them, or remind them of things from the past. I might not be directly pressuring them, but they might feel pressured because of my directness. So keeping an eye on their reaction is important. I’ve also noticed how I’m different in that regard – and how in a way I feel more comfortable flirting or in a cruising space. I haven’t quite deconstructed *why* that is yet… but we’ll see*. Acknowledging that most people are probably the opposite is something that I think is important for me to do.

Another thing I noticed was friendships. It’s no surprise really that the people at opencon form unconventional friendships, that look, from an observer’s perspective, quite a lot like romantic relationships. As someone who’s not used to seeing this, I had to re-assess my assumptions on a few occasions! And this got me thinking about my own attitude to friendships. Something I’ve realised recently is that I tend to have quite a lot of acquaintances, who I don’t know very well, and would like to have a deeper platonic relationship with but never manage to. And then I have my romantic relationships, and that’s where I get all my fulfilment of human interactions from. And perhaps that is one of the bigger reasons to why I’m polyamorous. It’s really easy to go along in life, forgetting that it’s not just romantic relationships that have all these unwritten rules that are implied to follow. Friendships have them as well! I think in a sense I try to escape the implicit rules in romantic relationships by dating women, that seems to have more of a feeling that the rules don’t apply… but with friendships I can’t do that! There’s no easy escape. So I guess you just have to talk about everything! In particular I’ve been thinking about how friends are supposed to show affection, and how a certain level of affection seems to be on a very blurry line between platonic and romantic – things like greeting each other with long hugs, holding hands, stroking hair all that kind of stuff. And what’s the problem in doing that with your friend? The only thing I can think of would be if you weren’t sure where you stood with that person. It seems likely the only reason we might avoid being so affectionate is in order to make sure we’re not giving off the wrong kind of signals. Surely we can just talk about that though? Maybe I should be asking people who have these fabulously close friendships, how do you get to that point? I really suck at friendships, but I think it’s something I need much, much more of in my life.

*I’ve since worked out why: It’s largely to do with my comfort levels with casual or group interactions in comparison to one on one conversations. I feel like I can be more open, and more myself if I’m talking to someone one on one… and perhaps it’s the most validating when that involves flirting as it is validating my openness when otherwise that might be an aspect of me that is considered inappropriate.

OpenCon 2012

When I started writing this it was going to be about all the things OpenCon taught me, but I’ve decided put that in a separate post. I started writing some of the things out, and it got quite personal! So I felt like it belonged in a different post, as it had a very different tone to it. So this shall just be about my observations of my experience.

OpenCon has a very deliberate safeness about it. Everyone goes on about what we can do to make people feel the most comfortable and safe in the environment. And it wasn’t until I left that safe space that I realised how completely absent that kind of environment is in, what I suppose you would call, “normal society”. For the first time in my life I was able to stand at the edge of a room of people dancing without feeling like I was expected to join in whether I wanted to or not*. It was also apparent when I realised that I’d been speaking up in pretty much every workshop I went to. I worry a lot about putting my foot in it, especially around so many people I respect, so the fact that I felt so free and confident to be able to do so was really a testament to how well everyone involved went about things**. Everyone was given a chance to have their voice heard (quite literally). And I think leaving that environment and going back to normalcy may have been largely what people were referring to when they spoke about getting a “comedown” from OpenCon. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could live in such a safe space 24/7?

It was also really wonderful being surrounded by so many critical thinkers! Being around people who think as deeply as I do is usually a rare thing, so it was really validating to be in a crowd like that. And very reassuring when I watched people shimmer their hands*** at my words in workshops. But anyway! Critical thinkers! It was really amazing that in the very first workshop**** we were already discussing the things we might be doing as a community that are inadvertently oppressing some of its members. Not once did I hear the phrase “if it’s not broke don’t fix it”. The fact that we, as a community, seem to be very willing to question our own beliefs and examine ourselves is very reassuring to me, and makes me proud to be part of it. And after OpenCon I feel much more part of the community than I ever did before, that’s probably the main thing I took away from the weekend in fact.

One of the workshops I went to was called “women flirting with women”. I did sort of feel like maybe I shouldn’t have been there since I don’t really experience the same problems as the other women who attended. But I thought it might be fun to share experiences with other women! I did enjoy it, and it was a little weird, but it was definitely a memorable experience. It was focussed on getting women to be a little more bold, and to actually make a move sometimes. And as a woman who rather likes getting hit on, I’m all for this! Upon reflection though, I became slightly concerned that maybe in its effort to empower – it may have negated some important things about reading negative signals. There was no “how to tell if she’s just not that into you” and how to take rejection gracefully. As someone who likes to chat up women – I find that’s pretty important. For example, in the workshop we were split up into groups of three; all taking turns to flirt, be flirted with, and observe. In the instance where I was being flirted with I had quite a surreal experience: Even though she was giving me clear flirting signs (duh, that was the point of the exercise), when I flirted back a little I picked up on some very subtle hints that, actually, she wasn’t interested in me. I think protecting yourself from those little rejections and learning that they mean nothing is important in being a confident flirter. So it would have been good to have more of that I think. But I totally get what they were trying to do in this workshop, and it’s really admirable, perhaps talking about rejection too much in that workshop would have felt really negative and been counterproductive in giving women more confidence when they really need it.

I had one suggestion to add based on my experience there, so I may as well include that here: I think it would have been useful to have some hand gestures introduced in the “welcoming” talk so that we could use them throughout the weekend in the workshops. Things like “on that point” would have been particularly useful, especially in the larger workshops as it’s harder to let everyone speak in those.

All in all, it was a really great experience. I’m really glad that we were able to go in the end! I feel a lot closer to the community now, and perhaps for the first time ever like I belong somewhere. It sort of feels like a new chapter of Tess.

* I love watching people dance, not so much dancing myself… maybe that will change, maybe it won’t, but it really bugs me when I’m expected to love it as much as Everyone Else™.

** Especially compared to PolyDay for example, where it was much harder to have your say (probably because there were just so many people) and the conversation was often dominated by the loudest members.

*** By this I mean the signal people make when they mean “I agree”

**** That was Meg Barker’s talk on her book “Re-writing the rules” which was absolutely outstanding, and gave us all stuff to think about and discuss among ourselves for the whole weekend. Including some new language and even a few in jokes! (It’s crab buckets all the way down!!!)