(Picture – Osho Leela, the gorgeous venue for OpenCon-UK.)
We – my awesome housemate, her equally awesome partner, two lovely visiting friends from the Continent, and me – step through the door of Osho Leela and are immediately greeted with hugs. One of the organisers shows me to my dorm, and it takes me about three seconds to dump my stuff, pull off my travelling clothes and redress in a floor length velvet gown, rush back downstairs and throw myself into socialising. There are lovely people. There are hugs and greetings and catching up and trying to remember names. There is tea and brownies. A short while later, there is dinner, Osho Leela’s signature wholesome, vegetarian deliciousness.
The welcome talk begins at nine. The organisers say some words of welcome, talk about the controversial gender-balancing policy, and discuss what will happen over the weekend. My co-facilitators and I stand up and say a few words on our upcoming workshop on “Community Responses to Abuse,” and the OpenCon “Wall of Voices” project. After this, we are divided into “Pods” – small groups who act as points of contact and support to each other over the weekend. My Pod go into the coffee shop area to chat, and spend a pleasant half hour getting to know each other.
When Pod time breaks up, I grab a towel and head to the sauna. Hanging out naked with lovely people in a sauna is something that should happen more than once a year, because it is Totally Freaking Awesome. When I duck outside to cool off, it is raining; I stand in it, enjoying the simple, blissful pleasure of feeling the water falling on my skin and the coolness of the October air.
After the sauna, it is socialising time. I talk to lots of wonderful people and have many, many cool conversations. This event is the first time I’ve gone to something and had people go “ooh, you’re that girl who writes that blog!” I smile and blush lots when this happens. I am becoming Internet-Famous! I am very tired, so I head to bed at a reasonable hour (I’m trying this new self-care regime that involves listening to my body and getting enough food and sleep; it’s fantastic!) I drift to sleep in the room I’m sharing with three awesome, queer women.
I wake in the morning to the sun pouring through the big window of our dorm, laze around for a minute, and then get up and enjoy a shower in the women’s communal shower room. After a yummy breakfast, there is socialising, and a brief spot of being a Desk Minion, before it’s time for the first workshop: Dr Meg Barker’s keynote session on her new book, Rewriting the Rules. The discussion centres around the ‘rules’ of the mononormative and heteronormative world, which we try to break away from as non-monogamists, and then the norms and rules which the poly community creates. I think I have picked up two new favourite expressions: “crab bucket”[3a] and “poly grail,”[3b] thanks to this workshop.
In the next workshop slot, I run ‘Poly 101.’ We talk about our journeys into polyamory, lots about coming out, and some basic but oh-so-important skills for things like effective communication. It is awesome, and everyone contributes loads. I am a happy facilitator! I am also hungry by this point, and glad that it is lunchtime. The theme of ‘delicious food’ continues.
After lunch, it’s time for the Heavy Stuff, as my co-facilitators and I set up for our workshop discussing reactions to abuse within the community and how such terrible things can be effectively handled. It’s brilliant; difficult and emotional and painful and rage-inducing, but brilliant. People talk, really talk, about topics so horrible that we prefer, as a community, to ignore them a lot of the time. I feel as though we are joining and facing our collective demons together. In the next slot, there is no session I’m particularly excited about, so instead we head outside to enjoy the sun and the trampoline in the garden. There is bouncing, and then four of us lying on the trampoline looking up at the sky and talking and giggling about all kinds of things. Then someone brings us all tea, which just makes this whole situation even more full of Win.
Next, it is time to Talk About SEX! Or, more accurately, about attitudes to sex in the poly world, and particularly to people who choose not to have sex with lots and lots of different people. I come away feeling truly understood and accepted with respect to an issue that has been incredibly difficult for me in my journey through the Maze of Non-Monogamy.
Then the sessions are over, and it is time for dinner (in my opinion, this was the best meal of the weekend, though they were all amazing.) Dinner is followed by more socialising, and at 9 the OpenCon Open Mic begins.
I am simply stunned and awed by the level of talent in our community. We have musicians and poets and comedy, and every single thing is brilliant in its own way. My contribution is a very ranty poem/spoken word piece about the frustrations of being seen only as my body. People seem to appreciate it. After the awesome entertainment wraps up, I head to the sauna once more, and squeeze in alongside fifteen or so other people…. it is quite packed! An hour or so passes very pleasantly, naked and going between the heat of the sauna and the cool of the outside air. Bliss. Then it is time for more socialising, until my tiredness gets the better of me and I fall into bed at two in the morning.
Sunday, I am awake bright and early in time to shower and then head downstairs for breakfast. In the first session, I head to a ‘Dirty Talk’ workshop which turns out to be in equal measure hot and hilarious. I giggle lots, blush a bit, and come away a teeny bit turned on.
The second session is somewhat heavier; ‘Mental Health and Non Monogamy’ – but absolutely brilliant. I listen and learn a lot, and chip in a few points of my own. I am both saddened and heartened to hear of others’ experiences dealing with the realities of mental illness, and the validation of my own experience makes me want to cry.
Then there is lunch, the final communal meal of the ‘Con, and all too soon it is time for the final workshop – a discussion on safer sex. It is run by a community member who is a nurse, and I learn loads as well as taking part in some awesome discussion around communication and negotiations.
Finally, everyone piles into the main room in the house for the closing and goodbyes. Emotions are running high as people share their positive – and sometimes life-changing – experiences, and there is such an amazing vibe to the whole space. There are hugs and swapping contact details and thank yous and promises to keep in touch. When we reluctantly say our goodbyes and head out an hour or so later, I am exhausted but happy.
To everyone who was there, who made OpenCon what it was…. thank you.
 Jess’s opinions on this have been shared with afore-mentioned organisers, and are being deliberately omitted from this space.
 A project in which attendees could write their experiences of abuse, whether experienced as a victim, a perpetrator or a witness, and share them on large sheets on the walls for everyone to read. The idea was to give people a voice who may have been previously silenced, and to show how rife this stuff is and how important it is to talk about it.
[3b] Fairly self-explanatory; see also “Unicorn hunting.”
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 …This is a footnote.