Jenny Block's Speech At The Poly Pride Rally

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Jenny Block's Speech At The Poly Pride Rally
Jenny Block's speech at the Poly Pride Rally focused on communication.

Before writing Open, I went to my daughter's soccer practice with my husband and our then girlfriend, Lisbeth. The three of us went to the neighborhood happy hours and she joined us on our vacations to the North Carolina shore. People never even asked. They assumed she was the nanny, my sister, a dear family friend. And we never gave them reason for pause. Never gave them the opportunity to think otherwise.

But then there was this chance to write a book, to communicate to the outside world, to tell my story and the writer in me couldn't resist. But there is only one good way to write a book about your life—you have to tell the truth. At that moment I had to decide, my family had to decide whether or not we were ready. After much talking and thinking and debating and sighing, we decided we were ready. We weren't, of course.  We couldn't have been.

How can you ever be ready for the wrath of some people, the pity of others, and the surprising amount of love and community that comes as well? And how could you be ready to show up at a television station to talk about your book only to find yourself sharing the green room with the show's other guest—a three-legged, mangy white puppy saved from a lifetime of torture in a puppy mill? How can I compete with that tiny face who has posed with the likes of Barack Obama and Lindsay Lohan. The dog has her own tour bus!

It all came as quite a shock. The scathing comments being the biggest shock of all, of course. The first ones on the web called me a whore, implored my husband to leave me, damned me to hell, and caused my cheeks to catch fire, my nerves to clench, and my stomach to heave. But then the comments of support came rolling in and soon it was an even tide. An ebb and flow of commentary that quickly became an education that I couldn't have come by any other way.

And that has been the thrill of the last four months, for nowhere else could have I experienced the power of a skill we have come in many ways to take for granted.

I like to think I'm a pretty good communicator. I know when to speak and when to listen. I know when to share and when to hold back. I know how to manipulate language to make it do my will. I was on the high school debate team after all. And I've been married for eleven years. Nothing like a long-term relationship to teach you the power of communication.

For my husband and I that doesn't always mean talking. Sometimes, it means quite the opposite, in fact. Sometimes it means asking, "What's the score?" instead of pleading with my husband to change the channel away from yet another college football game. Sometimes it means putting the laundry in the dryer even though I have a strict "I am not the maid around here" policy. Sometimes it means not demanding a conversation and accepting that "I'm fine, baby. Everything's fine" actually means "I'm fine, baby. Everything's fine."

Now, when we first opened our relationship, it did mean talking ad nauseum. It seemed like there was no way around that. It was a huge step for two long time monogamists (or supposed monogamists, anyway) to take. How would this work? What would the rules be? What about jealousy? What if you love her more than me? What about our kid? What about my in-laws? Is this a bad idea? Are we bad people? Am I a lesbian? Do you want to leave me? We're freaks, aren't we? Will there be sleepovers? Will you watch? Will I? Will, well, you get the idea.

We probably did more communicating the year before we opened our marriage than we had ever done before or since. And it was where I learned the most valuable lesson about communication that I could have ever hoped for—you can never, ever be prepared for people's reactions, the responses—whether negative or positive that always say so much more about the speaker than about us.

No matter how well you might think you know your partner. It's almost impossible to know what they'll say when you say, "Honey, I've been thinking. And what I've been thinking is that I want to sleep with other people." Seems to me, if you can say that to the person you promised to love, honor and cherish until death do you part, you can say ANYTHING to them. And once you can say anything to them, well, it's a heck of a lot easier to say anything to other people too.

And that's why as unprepared as I was for people's reactions, those reactions brought out, I think, the best in me. Their comments—no matter how harsh or unkind or unfair—make me calmer and stronger and smarter. And they honed the skills that I had been working on in my marriage. In turn, I brought those skills back to bear on my marriage and my relationship with my current girlfriend Jemma. Being with her has taught me once and for all that love isn't a limited commodity. That being poly is about honoring one's sexuality not exploiting it. And that just because you feel like you're alone in the world, alone in your views about love and sex and life and relationships, doesn't mean that you really are.

Of course, just between you and I, she's always teasing me that she's more of a duo-amorist rather than a poly one.

All of this has made me acutely aware of how much the people who came before me in this fight have done. How much all of you have done just by living your lives without compromise. How tirelessly those who have long been fighting the good fight have inspired all of us to communicate honestly in all of our relationships, with intimates, friends, or family. How they have taught us how to communicate with the rest of the world so that there might be more acceptance and less hate as we move forward. This is not to imply that we have to tell everyone everything. But it does mean being true to ourselves when it comes to the messages we convey to others.

This is never easy in the best of situations.  But what I have learned is that it's worth it, what it teaches us as a community is that we are worth it and so I try every day to live fully and honestly and authentically. To, as an old theater director used to tell me, "Really be there. Be where you are." All of you have been my guides in doing that, and though we will continue to face those whose lives are controlled by hate and fear, we must rise above and show them by example just how delicious life can be.

My truth is this. Talking to my partners will always be priority one. But if I want to feel truly comfortable in the world at large, talking to the public has to run a very close second. And both have to be treated with equal care.  It's a daily challenge to be sure. A challenge when I meet new people and wonder whether I should use the word "girlfriend" when I introduce Jemma. A challenge when I do an interview and I know the people I love and the people who love me are watching. A challenge when I write something that I know will reach exactly the ears I'm longing to truly reach.

It is something that all of you and the rest of the poly community have made possible for me to shoulder.  Which is why I wanted to take my time today to say the two words that I truly cannot say emphatically or sincerely enough—thank you.

{C}

On October 4, 2008 Jenny Block spoke at the Poly Pride Rally in New York City. The rally was part of Poly Pride Weekend, a gathering for polyamorous people, those who maintain multiple loving relationships at the same time. Jenny is the author of Open: Love, Sex and Life in an Open Marriage, which all started here, in her essay, Portrait of an Open Marriage.

*****

I've been thinking a lot about what I wanted to say to you today. A lot. You're not an easy crowd, you know. First, you are being treated to an incredible line-up of speakers. I mean the gang's all here—Tristan Taormino, Cunning Minx, Anita Wagner, Nan Wise. Not to mention our fearless leaders Birgitte Philippides and Diana Adams. And second, well, it's Central Park for God sake's New York City. A girl wants to make an impression.

I was asked if I might say a few words about communication and it got me thinking about just how many different kinds of communicating we all do—how we communicate with our partners and within our relationships; how we talk to other people about our relationships (both those who agree or support us and those who do not) and how we communicate with one another, many of us strangers and yet all of us connected. And seeing how the focus of today is really all of those types of communication, I thought I might start off by saying the one thing I want to communicate more than anything and that is—thank you. To all of you.

You represent a community that has welcomed me in and supported me in a way I could have never expected or imagined. And you need all the support you can get when you're sharing your personal life with what feels like the whole universe.

You see, I never set out to be a spokesperson or poster child for polyamory. I'm a writer and what I write about is my life. And so when I was asked to write a book about the fact that I was in an open marriage, I was thrilled. And then, I was terrified.

What will people think, I wondered. Here I am living the life I want, gliding under the radar of most and feeling pretty good about how I was able to be living what many might consider a fringe lifestyle in the middle of a gated community. And that's where the part about communicating with people outside of our relationships and outside of the community who may or not support, condone, tolerate, or accept who and how we love comes in.

Before writing Open, I went to my daughter's soccer practice with my husband and our then girlfriend, Lisbeth. The three of us went to the neighborhood happy hours and she joined us on our vacations to the North Carolina shore. People never even asked. They assumed she was the nanny, my sister, a dear family friend. And we never gave them reason for pause. Never gave them the opportunity to think otherwise.

But then there was this chance to write a book, to communicate to the outside world, to tell my story and the writer in me couldn't resist. But there is only one good way to write a book about your life—you have to tell the truth. At that moment I had to decide, my family had to decide whether or not we were ready. After much talking and thinking and debating and sighing, we decided we were ready. We weren't, of course.  We couldn't have been.

How can you ever be ready for the wrath of some people, the pity of others, and the surprising amount of love and community that comes as well? And how could you be ready to show up at a television station to talk about your book only to find yourself sharing the green room with the show's other guest—a three-legged, mangy white puppy saved from a lifetime of torture in a puppy mill? How can I compete with that tiny face who has posed with the likes of Barack Obama and Lindsay Lohan. The dog has her own tour bus!

It all came as quite a shock. The scathing comments being the biggest shock of all, of course. The first ones on the web called me a whore, implored my husband to leave me, damned me to hell, and caused my cheeks to catch fire, my nerves to clench, and my stomach to heave. But then the comments of support came rolling in and soon it was an even tide. An ebb and flow of commentary that quickly became an education that I couldn't have come by any other way.

And that has been the thrill of the last four months, for nowhere else could have I experienced the power of a skill we have come in many ways to take for granted.

I like to think I'm a pretty good communicator. I know when to speak and when to listen. I know when to share and when to hold back. I know how to manipulate language to make it do my will. I was on the high school debate team after all. And I've been married for eleven years. Nothing like a long-term relationship to teach you the power of communication.

For my husband and I that doesn't always mean talking. Sometimes, it means quite the opposite, in fact. Sometimes it means asking, "What's the score?" instead of pleading with my husband to change the channel away from yet another college football game. Sometimes it means putting the laundry in the dryer even though I have a strict "I am not the maid around here" policy. Sometimes it means not demanding a conversation and accepting that "I'm fine, baby. Everything's fine" actually means "I'm fine, baby. Everything's fine."

Now, when we first opened our relationship, it did mean talking ad nauseum. It seemed like there was no way around that. It was a huge step for two long time monogamists (or supposed monogamists, anyway) to take. How would this work? What would the rules be? What about jealousy? What if you love her more than me? What about our kid? What about my in-laws? Is this a bad idea? Are we bad people? Am I a lesbian? Do you want to leave me? We're freaks, aren't we? Will there be sleepovers? Will you watch? Will I? Will, well, you get the idea.

We probably did more communicating the year before we opened our marriage than we had ever done before or since. And it was where I learned the most valuable lesson about communication that I could have ever hoped for—you can never, ever be prepared for people's reactions, the responses—whether negative or positive that always say so much more about the speaker than about us.

No matter how well you might think you know your partner. It's almost impossible to know what they'll say when you say, "Honey, I've been thinking. And what I've been thinking is that I want to sleep with other people." Seems to me, if you can say that to the person you promised to love, honor and cherish until death do you part, you can say ANYTHING to them. And once you can say anything to them, well, it's a heck of a lot easier to say anything to other people too.

And that's why as unprepared as I was for people's reactions, those reactions brought out, I think, the best in me. Their comments—no matter how harsh or unkind or unfair—make me calmer and stronger and smarter. And they honed the skills that I had been working on in my marriage. In turn, I brought those skills back to bear on my marriage and my relationship with my current girlfriend Jemma. Being with her has taught me once and for all that love isn't a limited commodity. That being poly is about honoring one's sexuality not exploiting it. And that just because you feel like you're alone in the world, alone in your views about love and sex and life and relationships, doesn't mean that you really are.

Of course, just between you and I, she's always teasing me that she's more of a duo-amorist rather than a poly one.

All of this has made me acutely aware of how much the people who came before me in this fight have done. How much all of you have done just by living your lives without compromise. How tirelessly those who have long been fighting the good fight have inspired all of us to communicate honestly in all of our relationships, with intimates, friends, or family. How they have taught us how to communicate with the rest of the world so that there might be more acceptance and less hate as we move forward. This is not to imply that we have to tell everyone everything. But it does mean being true to ourselves when it comes to the messages we convey to others.

This is never easy in the best of situations.  But what I have learned is that it's worth it, what it teaches us as a community is that we are worth it and so I try every day to live fully and honestly and authentically. To, as an old theater director used to tell me, "Really be there. Be where you are." All of you have been my guides in doing that, and though we will continue to face those whose lives are controlled by hate and fear, we must rise above and show them by example just how delicious life can be.

My truth is this. Talking to my partners will always be priority one. But if I want to feel truly comfortable in the world at large, talking to the public has to run a very close second. And both have to be treated with equal care.  It's a daily challenge to be sure. A challenge when I meet new people and wonder whether I should use the word "girlfriend" when I introduce Jemma. A challenge when I do an interview and I know the people I love and the people who love me are watching. A challenge when I write something that I know will reach exactly the ears I'm longing to truly reach.

It is something that all of you and the rest of the poly community have made possible for me to shoulder.  Which is why I wanted to take my time today to say the two words that I truly cannot say emphatically or sincerely enough—thank you.

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