Monday, July 10, 2017

Kevin Patterson on the Hot Seat #POC&Polyamory

I'm newish to polyamory, and always feel honored and blessed to learn from the experts. I met Kevin and Antoinette Patterson online a few years ago, then in person at CatalystCon 2016. What I've seen of his relationship style and efforts to build community is mindful, kind, and always ethical to all parties involved. I guested on his PolyRoleModels blog in 2016 and am delighted he let me turn the tables on him, and ask MY questions, for this post.


1) In the polyamory communities, there's often some interesting discourse on "what polyamory means to you, or "how to do polyamory RIGHT." How would YOU define "doing polyamory right," and what do you consider "doing it wrong?"

I'm not really a stickler for high and tight rules about what is or isn't polyamory. I bristle at the polysnobbery that shows up in a lot of communities. As far as I'm concerned, it breaks down as the capacity for multiple romantic and pr sexual relationships with everyone aware and willing. Even still though, I feel like any definition or label under the ethical nonmonogamy umbrella should be the start of a nuanced conversation when put into practice.


2) What was your journey to polyamory like? Was it an epiphany, did you always know you were polyamorous, was it a journey? Any notable polyam screwups?

I definitely didn't always know I was polyamorous. I just lucked my way into a threesome that stuck. Because I accidentally stumbled into nonmonogamy, I didn't think it was a real thing that a regular guy, like me, could actually do. Once I found myself in the middle of a nonmonogamous relationship, I didn't want to lose what I thought was my only shot. So, I did a bunch of study and research as I went along. I read all the books. It wasn't until I found communities that I could model myself after did I really hit my stride.

My notable screwups are actually scattered throughout the Cautionary Poly posts on my blog. Mostly under aliases. I don't like talking about them. Some are pretty embarrassing.


3) WHY is publicly promoting and discussing polyamory important to you? Not that it's not an important cause, because it is, but there are LOTS of important causes, from ending childhood poverty to stopping the destruction of the rainforests, on and on and on. Why do you think THIS cause grabbed you as a primary focus?

I'm really into customizing my life. I don't do it obsessively, but I am obsessed with at least having the option to cast off convention and live life on my own terms. Polyamory was a major addition to that. The ability to negotiate and advocate for the relationship you want is something that everyone can benefit regardless of love style. It's a mindset that can extend into every aspect of your life.


4) Polyamory and parenting. Some people ask "What about the children?" Yet it seems that children often thrive - or suffer - in traditional two-parent homes, in single parent homes, raised by grandparents or other relatives, in stepfamilies... How is a polyamorous extended family beneficial for children - and what are the downsides that you've seen?

Rolling off what I said in the last question, a benefit is that my kids already know their parents aren't conventional. They're only 6 and 4 but they understand that doing things different isn't always a bad thing because they love their lives surrounded by responsible adults who care about them. I couldn't tell you what the downsides are. I'm sure they exist but I'm lucky to have never really encountered any.


5) Stating the obvious, you are a black American man. America has had cycles where it has been less openly racist toward black men, but there's never been a time where things were GOOD for people of color, especially black men. How do you deal with dating interracially in this environment? Do you just shut out the world, and its prejudices, making everything about you & your partner, or do you integrate the racial climate, almost like a third partner who's always in the room? Have things changed for you and your loved ones in the last 10-15 years, and how? Are there adjustments you are making?

The major shift for me is in the vetting process. I vet white potential partners a lot harder than the women of color I show an interest in. There is nothing that hurts quite like finding out someone you're into isn't 100% checked in on your humanity or civil rights. Intersectional feminism is a hardline dating requirement for me. We need to be able to have real talk about privilege, entitlement, and systemic oppression. I refuse to have any doubt when it comes to someone I'm seeking to spend personal time with. In return, i'll offer up the same level of vetting in regards to my privileged gender, sexuality, education level, etc.


6) Things aren't always black-or-white. There can be racial tensions between people who all identify as POC: Asian, Hispanic, Native peoples, black people, multiracial people, POC who pass as white. And then there are people who are disabled, LGBTQ, nonbinary gender, out about their mental health challenges... One thing that makes me cringe is when "those people" are immediately pounced on by community leaders to "help us bring in more XYZ people." Like, maybe they are sick and tired of always being designated as the lone ambassadors of "their kind." At the same time, if we (CisWhiteHet able-bodied) don't figure it out, our "other" friends will stop attending events, because nobody wants to feel like the only pink monkey in a cage full of brown monkeys. Beside listening hard, what kinds of things can a community that is primarily white, heteronormative, cisgender and able-bodied, do to create a more welcoming and inclusive environment? Also, how do we deal with people in our communities who are "woke" in some ways, dead asleep in others?

I always advocate bringing those people into the conversation. Making them an equal participant in the event or group planning. Up to and including replacing or expanding the leadership structure to make it as inclusive as the audience you seek. As far as people who understand systemic oppression in some way but not in others, all I can do is try to connect those points.

That's how I was eventually able to understand feminism. I heard a man dismissing a woman's experience with misogyny and rape culture and his tone sounded so similar to how white people have dismissed my experiences with racism. Not only did the analogous behavior click in my head, but I immediately understood that I had done the same to women. After that, I had to ask myself some really tough questions and then proactively rewrite my own narrative.


7) Gray areas, and forgiveness/rehabilitative justice. Sometimes people say stupid shit - racist, sexist, homophobic, whatever. *points at self* Some of my friends practice zero tolerance - once you say or do a stupid thing, the offender is dead to them, forever. And I get it, traumatized people usually don't have the spoons to give others more opportunities to traumatize them. Others, perhaps, give too many second/third/fortieth chances. But there are different dynamics in a community, rather than a personal relationship. Where in your opinion is a reasonable line for a community, between, "On the path to better awareness," and "dead-set on finding new ways to be an asshole"?

I'm all about effort. If somebody fucks up and then puts in effort to make it right, I'll give them the room to do so...while still being very wary of their presence in any spaces I inhabit. If they don't put in that effort, they aren't welcome and I'm typically pretty clear about saying so.

That's just how I am. I'm very vocal about the need for multiple approaches though. There are people who I think others are too soft on and others that I think people are too hard on. But that's my perspective and I’m not arrogant enough to think it's perfect. I welcome the proverbial good cop and bad cop when it comes to these debates and I often alternate which role I play.


8) You're working on a book - any idea when the launch date will be? What specific topics make YOUR book on polyamory different from the works already out there? And while we're waiting for the the launch of the book, where can we catch you in person giving workshops and roundtables?

My book should be available in Spring 2018, but I'll be loud and proud about any changes made between now and then. In it, I cover the same topics that I do in person. Barriers for entry that people of color face when entering polyamorous spaces and real world steps we can all take to be more welcoming and inclusive. It's gonna hurt some feelings, but that's a good thing. You can't reach for change while sitting comfortably.

In the meantime, I'll be appearing as a guest host on the Polyamory Weekly podcast. I'm presenting in person at Poly Dallas Millenium (July 13-15), Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit in Alexandria, Va. (August 4-6), and CatalystCon in Los Angeles (September 15-17).


9) I know your efforts are a labor of love, or perhaps, a work of art - but even lovers and artists gotta eat. How can people $upport your work?

I've opened up a Patreon account, linked here. While my Poly Role Models blog will remain a free resource, I wanted to open up an avenue for subscribers to both show some support and possibly fund future projects related to inclusive representation of polyamory.


10) What question have you not yet been asked - and what is your answer?

I don't know what question I haven't been asked, but I do know the question I've been asked too many times. That would be “How many people are you seeing?” I say that I've been asked too many times because I feel like it boxes in my interpretation of who I refer to as a partner. It almost feels like I'm being asked to quantify how many people I care about.

My dating is pretty wide range and my polyamory is pretty fluid depending on who I'm with. A friend today might be a friend with benefits tomorrow then a friend again the day after that. All with no real change in affection or logistics. A sentiment of “I love you” could mean, “I want to spend my life with you” or it could mean “I love who we are to each other during the twice-annual weekends we spend together.”

While I might only refer to one person as a wife or two people as a girlfriend, there are so many people that I love and have huge personal investments with. Women who have supported me or whom I have supported for years. I always feel shitty when asked that question because, without a list in my hand, there's no way I can answer it without leaving out someone I love. And occasionally, that loved one will call me on it. I'd rather just be asked about how my polyamory is “structured” without having to nail down a number.


Kevin Patterson, M.Ed is an active member of the Philadelphia polyamory community and the curator of the interview series blog, Poly Role Models. After stumbling bass ackwards into ethical nonmonogamy, Patterson found himself in a landscape with far more diversity than was being portrayed in mainstream media. He's since made it his mission to promote true stories from the people that make polyamory what it is. Himself included. Kevin is author of the upcoming book, Love's Not Color Blind, which examines the intersection of race and polyamory.

You can find him at PolyRoleModels on Tumblr, Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. You can support his work at Patreon