I had just been through a heart-wrenching breakup with my girlfriend. I was pretty mopey. My wife was very supportive, but she was tired of hearing about it.
That was a story I couldn’t tell around the water cooler. It was 2010, and except for the first few years of my marriage, I had been non-monogamous all my life. When I married my wife nearly 30 years ago, the term “polyamory” hadn’t even been coined yet. We were just “open.” But not “out.” The end of an important relationship that I couldn’t talk about with anyone but my partner – well, it made me realize I needed something I never had before: a community.
When I found the CSPC, I knew no one, and felt like I knew nothing. I was an introvert and found it hard to talk to people. One of the first things I did was find other members just as new and curious as I was. We went to parties together, and met long-standing members of the community.
Once I started approaching veteran members – and especially volunteers – I found them very welcoming and willing to share their experiences. And the new folks like me could support each other. So I learned and explored. Six years later, with the help of this community, I’m still exploring, still discovering.
Among the things I discovered was how to get involved. There are many paths to walk, but these are some steps I took.
- I Learned. I got to know the culture of the community and the wider sex-positive world. When you visit a country, you should get to know the language – it helps you make friends with the natives. I found workshops from the Foundation for Sex Positive Culture. So many different things to learn, no prior knowledge necessary! At workshops I found other people who wanted to talk to about that particular subject. So we did.
- I Connected. In talking about shared interests, I already had a connection to people, no matter our relative levels of experience. We found how we were different, and how we were the same. I learned to speak the language from others: vanilla, poly, non-monogamous; Top, bottom, switch; transgender, gender queer, cisgender; sensation, impact, suspension. We talked terms and how to avoid restrictive labels. We talked practical techniques of sex and BDSM and how to approach them with care and consent.
- I Joined. There’s so much to do when you’re not a member, but I admit this was one I jumped into right away. Orientation sucked me in, and I wanted to see it all, even what seemed like secret and privileged experiences reserved for members. My membership opened just about any door I wanted, and it was up to me to walk through.
- I Partied. Membership had its benefits – and there was so much variety to choose from. From cuddling to heavy BDSM, from public sex to simple socials where nothing was expected except to interact. And you know, at all of these, it was still okay to just sit back and watch, take it in until I was ready to participate. And participate I did, in short order. I like to say I came to the CSPC for the poly and stayed for the BDSM.
- I Volunteered. The CSPC, it turned out, doesn’t make anyone rich. It only exists because of members who give their time and energy to make events happen. Volunteering was the most fantastic way to get to know the Center “behind the scenes.” I started “shadowing” trained volunteers, and I learned about the parties, and about various volunteer roles. I learned how the CSPC worked, and how it served so many communities. Plus, working a short volunteer shift meant I could enjoy the rest of the party free. If I put in a reasonable number of hours, I didn’t have to pay for most events at all. Volunteering is the most rewarding way I’ve ever found to be kind to my wallet. And the more I got involved, the more I wanted to give back – and the more I enjoyed contributing to and shaping the community where I had found a new home.
Everyone’s path is different. But these steps are how I found myself moving forward. To those brand new, or still learning new things, I say: don’t be afraid to take those first or next steps. Just use the stepping stones the community provides to keep your feet firm and your eyes ahead. And enjoy the journey.
Panda is a long-time volunteer and a founder of the Passport Program, a service for newcomers to the CSPC. He leads a discussion group about sex positivity and CSPC & FSPC activities every first Friday of the month. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.