Your love: Open SF conference teaches, showcases polyamorous community

“I have a partner that I live with, two girlfriends, and a number of lovers” 

In my San Francisco, it’s not uncommon to know someone who identifies as polyamorous, or who participates in multiple loving and intimate relationships. 

In fact when I talked to Pepper Mint, conference organizer for OpenSF, he told me that the non-monagamous community in the Bay Area has finally reached a critical mass. His reasoning? Over the weekend of June 8, Open SF was attended by over 500 of the poly-curious and practicing. 

As his community expands, Mint thinks it is necessary to recognize the multitude of voices that compose polyamorous San Francisco. “I feel it is important to highlight our similarities while acknowledging our differences,” he told me as we sat on the floor outside of one of the many conference rooms at the Holiday Inn where OpenSF was in full swing around us. 

The weekend started with the Pink play party at Mission Control. There was a keynote address from trans-identified sex educator Ignacio Rivera and trans-gendered health educator and social justice activist Yoseñio V. Lewis. The two also hosted a lecture entitled “Kink, Race, and Class.”

The lecture sought to inspire dialogue about how race, racism, and class appear in the world of kink. It was one of many unique talks over the weekend that both celebrated and critiqued the diversity and spread of the polyamorous community.  Other offerings available to OpenSF attendees included “Sex Work and Non-Monagamy,”  “Fat Sluts, Hungry Virgins,” and “Trans-Queering Your Sex.” 

In another hallway that weekend, Sonya Brewer — who facilitated the “Cultivating Healthy Boundaries” lecture on Sunday — suggested the conference was well attended due to Mint’s effort to include a diversity of individuals, including sexual minorities and other oppressed groups on the planning committee. Brewer, a somatic psychotherapist and queer woman of color, has been a practicing polyamorist for 15 years. 

“It’s about finding out where your yes’ and no’s are to really connect with other people,” said Brewer. “In our culture we get taught not to listen to our bodies. It’s about teaching people their forgotten skills of connecting to themselves.”

Mint described himself to be a straight-leaning bisexual with some gender variance. I watched him push back his shoulder-length purple hair to kiss one of his female lovers hello as he confidently navigated our interview and managed the conference. 

When I asked him to describe his poly structure Mint said, “I have a partner that I live with, two girlfriends, and a number of lovers.” He was raised in a polyamorous home, and talked openly about how his childhood environment help him grow into a healthy, sex-positive community leader. “When creating a sex-positive polyamorous space there is an importance to two things; skills — communication and transparency — and building community connections. People who participate in community usually succeed in polyamory.”

For my own itinerary, I settled on two lectures: Kathy Labriola’s “Unmasking the Green-Eyed Monster: Managing Jealousy in Open Relationships” and “Second Generation Poly,” a panel featuring porn couple Maggie and Ned Mayhem and members of their family. 

Labriola’s hour-long talk examined jealousy from an anthropological perspective, highlighting it as a universal experience that manifests itself depending on one’s cultural upbringing. Her bad news? Jealousy is unavoidable. Her good news? It’s a learned behavior, and you can learn to manage it. During the lecture, she provided us with a handy checklist to use in determining whether insecurities are based in fact or freak-out. 

“Identify a situation that makes you jealous and ask the questions,” Labriola said, breaking down the checklist. “Number one, [do] I have a resource I value very much and I’m fearful of losing? Number two, [does] another person want that resource? Number three, [do] you believe you are in direct competition for something you want? Number four, [do] you believe if push comes to shove you will lose out?”

This list was one of the practical tools Labriola gave the auienced to manage their jealousy. She also discussed guided imagery, treating jealousy as a phobia, and boundary setting. The audience had several questions for Labriola once the lecture was over. My personal favorite was when an audience member asked how to deal with a jealous partner. Labriola simply replied, “Just  shut up and listen.” 

Maggie Mayhem — dressed in a fluorescent orange space suit, a representation of her “out-of-this-world situation” — sat on a panel with partner Ned, his father, and his father’s “second partner” (a non-hierarchical term, Maggie clarified for me later.) They discussed negotiating boundaries at sex parties, raising children with more than two parents, and the stigma many parents of sex-positive children can encounter. Mayhem encouraged the audience to, “Be the author to your own happily ever after.”

I left OpenSF feeling newly inspired, and informed about the diverse landscape of the Bay Area’s poly community. The conference encouraged its participants to create doctrines of love while keeping a critical and open perspective. And it provided a place for the polyamorous to come together. “People who try to create their own non-monogamy usually fail,” said Mint. “People who participate in community usually succeed. Being a part of non-monogamous community greatly increases the chance of being successful with non-monogamy, because the skills required are simply not provided by mainstream culture.”