Interview with Gwendolin (die Krake)
This interview was conducted for Q_Kver # 2, a Czech radical queer zine – 2013
You have been active in German polyamid movement for years. How did you get involved, what brought you to this theme?
I started my activism because I had the strong feeling that I needed to meet other women/lesbians, hear or read about their experiences. I felt like an alien as most people around me told me it was impossible to love more than one person and that relationships had to have a certain shape, while my feelings and wishes were clearly different from the mainstream ideal. So I initiated a poly-group for women/lesbians in Munich with a friend and wrote two articles for the book „Mehr als eine Liebe“ (More than One Love). Only one of those articles was published in the book and as I felt a lack of literature – and especially feminist and queer literature – on the topic of alternative relationships – I thought of making a zine on the topic, with my second article and some more stuff. My friend Albertine had been active around the topic some 15 years earlier and had also an unpublished text on the topic, which had been read in a performance in the 90ies but never printed. And she liked the idea of a zine and wanted it to contain not only serious but also funny stuff. I agreed, that humor was really important to get through rocky phases of non-monogamous life and for the fun of it anyway and so we started making KRAKE #1 (it means “Octopus”, with its many arms, symbolizes the numerous possibilities of composing relationships).
Is non-monogamy a common part of feminist agenda in Germany?
No. It is kind of trendy in queer-feminist and in politically leftist (socialist, anarchist, communist,…) communities and in alternative communities, but not in feminist groups in general.
What is your zine die Krake about?
It is about all kinds of alternative relationship-styles. This includes various kinds of non-monogamy as well as happy singles, asexuals, aromantics, friendship-networks, housing-coops and communes, cuddling-friends and everyone else who deviates from the ideal of the happytogetherforever-couple. It is written mainly from a feminist and often a lesbian-feminist perspective, but also other texts that fit into our general philosophy are welcome. We offer a mix of political and personal writings, of humorous and serious texts. And it is important to us, to publish also lots of images – comics or illustrations for the articles – because we are convinced, that you need not only new words to think of other possibilities in the realm of relationships but also other images in your head and heart.
I’ve found quite a long polymory vocabulary in one of issues of die Krake. Are there really that many different types of non-monogamous relationships?
If you ask me: there are even more different types! If you leave the narrow path of monogamy in the form it is known to us behind, you will find a rich landscape of possibilities. And to me it is very helpful to name at least some of these possibilities to set some marks of orientation in this unknown landscape. When I first started my alternative relationship life, I was regularly overwhelmed by the lots of choices I suddenly had. You have to learn to handle that. You have to find YOUR way through this landscape, find out what suits you well in this moment with this person, what you like in general and what you maybe like only with a certain partner,… If you stop to automatically follow the rules of how to behave with friends, with lovers, with colleagues, … and instead follow your own truth, your own heart, it is very helpful to have at least some ideas what kinds of arrangements do already exist and have been tried by others.
Is polyamory for everyone, or is it only for certain psychological types of people?
Everyone should be free to decide for themselves if they want to live poly or without romantic relationship or monogamous or something else. And their decision may be different at different times in their lives and with different partners. Creating this freedom does not mean we have to pretend that poly is the one-and-only-way to happiness for everyone, nor that we state that poly is only possible for the enlighten or for the political avantgarde. There is a complex set of factors involved creating a situation in which poly is an option for you, not only your psychological type. The Krake recommends: never forget to consider both sides of the truth: there are forces stronger than you shaping the situation AND at the same time you have the power to make your own decisions and create a situation according to your wishes. If you are for example shaken by jealousy it is not because you are such a looser and will never be a cool poly-feminist. It happens to you because you are living in a mono-normative society that expects you to experience exactly that scenario of jealousy. AND at the same time you do have responsibility in how you are acting in this jealous situation, and you do have options to not perform the script that you learned since you were a child. But whether you have the resources to change the script in a specific situation still depends on diverse variables. And if you don´t feel you get enough fun and strength out of your poly-experiments to be able to deal with the difficulties too, it is a completely wise and responsible decision to leave the poly way and choose an other relationship style.
What is the most difficult thing about polyamory for you? And what the best?
I don´t think I have a hitlist with a number one in difficulties and a number one in advantages. As well as in my relationship-universe I do not count certain people as number ones or primary partners. I prefer to find out what feels good with a specific person in the moment. And that may change over time as well.
But back to difficulties of poly life: For me personally one difficult thing is the situation, when I do something that provokes a jealous reaction in somebody else – a lover or a lovers lover in the most cases. It is sometimes hard for me to remember in this moment, that I am not guilty, that I am not the evil traitor or something like that. To remember that I act on the ground of a shared poly-agreement and that it is not my job to fix the situation for the jealous person. That in fact the important thing to do is to keep in touch with myself, to make my own decisions and take responsibility for what I do, but not for the feelings of others. To find my own way through the situation and at the same time to stay in touch with the jealous person. To know, that we are not enemies – as the jealousy-script suggests – but travelers on the same path.
One really good thing is, that poly can open your mind to see beyond binary structures. You start with relationships and experience, that you don´t have to choose whether you want to be involved with this partner or with the other. You realize, that there are more than two options. Than you go on and learn that there are more than two forms of relationships – it is not only lover or friend. There are so many possibilities in what you share with somebody who is important to you. How often you meet, talk, write each other, what you do together, what responsibilities you take together or for each other, what topics you share, if you have shared friends or lovers, if you share a flat or not, if you have an erotic connection and how it is expressed, … And then you may understand, that there is no necessity, to share certain activities only with lovers, that your needs need not be fulfilled by this one and only person. If you need comfort, or someone who listens to you, or some company – that you can find that not only with lovers but also with friends and also with yourself. The sources of happiness are multiple! And than you may transfer these experiences to other realms of life: you may for example develop a deeper understanding of what it means, that the binary gender system is not at all the only possibility to structure the world. You may find many situations in your life, where you see, that you do not have to choose between two polarized options.
Is there something like “10 important things for poly-beginners”?
You can find various kinds of helpful „important things for poly-beginners”-texts in the internet. One of the classics is „With open hands“. It was originally published in English, Czech and German in 1995 by Paxus Calta, a U.S. Anti-Nuclear activist living in Czechoslovakia in the 90ies. (He had been invited by the Czech Deep Ecology organization, Hnuti DUHA, to run the international campaign against the Temelin nuclear power plant from Brno. He now lives in the Twin Oaks Community in the United States.)
You can find the English version: HERE
To me a core issue is to improve your relationship with yourself. To learn more about your feelings, about what you like and dislike, about your needs and limits, about your abilities and qualities. Without knowing yourself, how should you know, what kind of relationship you want to develop with others? How could you talk to someone else about what you like to do with them and what not? And at some point you will have to deal with the phenomenon of jealousy – which is said to be inevitably connected to non-monogamy. I can´t tell whether this saying is true or not, but I know that this saying is strong enough to make sure that the issue of jealousy appears and has to be dealt with. When that time comes, it is very helpful, to know yourself well and to have a good relationship with yourself, because it may offer you the chance to keep in friendly touch with yourself even when jealous feelings are making you feel like a monster. It may offer you the chance to have some ideas about what could lighten up your mood, what could calm you, what could give you comfort. That are just some examples for why I see a good relationship to oneself as fundamental for a happy poly-life.
Can you describe a bit what the German Schlampagne was about?
The „Schlampagne“ (slut-campaign) was founded in 1999 by feminists and lesbians to include feminist criticism of marriage as well as the existence of alternative forms of relationships in the public discussion on the introduction of gay marriage and call for equal status for all ways of life.
The insult Schlampe [slut, also tramp, sloven] was reclaimed for self-designation. Slutty relationships are defined as oriented towards one’s own values and needs instead of the dominant order. In this respect they are dis-orderly, thus sloppy. (The corresponding German adjective schlampig means sloppy or disorderly). The Sluts were not just concerned with the possibility of several sexual relationships, but also with fundamentally challenging relationship norms and developing a self-determined way of relating, instead of the rigid division into couple relationship, blood relationship, friendship, and work relationship with their corresponding fixed codes of conduct. The importance of friendship, which usually counts much less than sexual relationships and kinship, should also be made more visible and celebrated. The Sluts always had the explosive political force in mind, inherent in questioning traditional relationship norms such as sexist and hierarchical structures, and put their campaign in the broader context of political struggles for abolishing all forms of suppression.
Christina Schenk, representative of the leftist party PDS introduced the ‘Bill for the Equal Status of all Ways of Life’, which was clearly inspired by the ideas of the „Schlampagne“, to parliament. This bill is a model of how a real freedom of choice in the realm of relationship forms could be realized on the legal level.
I feel much more connected to the „Schlampagne“ than to the polyamory movement. The ideas of the „Schlampagne“ go further than that of most poly activist. They question the ideal of romantic love itself, they include not only poly but also asexuality and happy singles, they see the topic as not merely a question of personal preference, but as a political one. And they are grounded in feminism – which is very important when we talk about self-determination in the realm of relationships, love and sexuality: Non-monogamous women are called sluts, while men are more likely to be admired for their sexual activities. Women are growing up with the knowledge, that their right to sexual self-determination is not respected in this society, that they might be raped or harassed. So, women have a completely different starting point if they think about developing a model of relationships and sexuality that suits them.
In Germany there have been a couple of slut camps – what are they about?
As I mentioned above: a central motive for me to start my activism was the wish to meet like minded women. So it comes as no surprise that this is a main issue at the camp, too: to meet others, that are interested in or already living in alternative relationship models and share a feminist perspective. To me connecting with others is really necessary to be able to live outside the mainstream. And I need definitely more persons to connect with, than the ones I am actually involved with. When I initiated the camp, I had the idea to create a space, where we are able to develop an alternative relationship culture, to share experiences and dreams, to have fun together and get to know each other, a place where a network is woven, that is alive and growing also after the camp-week, that gives hope and inspiration and motivates to develop regional meetings and activities. Last summer we had the fifth camp and it still is amazing for me to see, that these things really happen: that there is a growing network, that participants are staying in touch, are doing workshops together, are organizing regional meetings, are getting together for professional projects on different topics, are getting involved with each other in various alternative relationships, support each other via telephone or in person when someone has poly-trouble, are contributing to the zine „Die Krake“, … And I am also impressed how much the existence of the camp means to people. There are people who have never been there and still tell me, that the knowledge of its existence gives them the feeling they have ground under their feet and strengthens them when they explore alternative relationships. And participants tell me how things they learned in workshops like „Saying no and hearing no in a graceful way“ or „The practice of silence as a training of basic skills for alternative relationships“ helped them to handle poly-trouble more easily, or how ideas that were developed at the camp changed their view and opened new ways for them, or how happy they are to have found a place and a group they are feeling at home with… It really happens! We are developing a new relationship culture, finding new words, developing better tools, forming new models! The wonderful Austrian octopuses are singing non-monogamous pop-songs at the campfire, and they also developed an octopus-boardgame. In the camps little kiosk you can buy picture postcards with views of the camp, poly zines, octopus socks or stickers with poly-symbols – all handcrafted by participants. There are line-dance workshops for dancing with more than one partner, there was a yodel-workshop just for the fun of it, there are discussion groups on tantra and practical groups for massage, and there is also the option to miss workshops, go for a walk, support the kitchen, talk to a new acquaintance, …. Missing things is a very important poly-skill and I am happy to see it being practiced increasingly on the camp. Because poly life opens so many possibilities and so many sources of happiness that you just can not opt for all, it is important to learn, that missing something wonderful is no loss, if you are missing it by choosing another wonderful thing. If you don´t get that, poly can drive you crazy quickly 😉
The camp is organized by the participants thereby offering an opportunity to make some practical experiences that are useful for alternative relationship life as well, as communication skills, taking care for my own well-being and telling others what I need, making decisions together, developing schedules that are taking into account diverse interests, … To create a cozy and inspiring camp, everyone is taking responsibility for one or two things to be done every day: this may be cleaning the toilets and delivering the letters from the camps own postbox. Or making general announcements after meals and do the shopping. Or welcoming new participants and cooking. Or being the fairy of the day and fulfilling wishes/finding someone to fulfill them and dispose of the waste. We want to take care of all the aspects and different levels that are necessary for a good life in connectedness with many and also to make them visible. And we wanted to do it with shared responsibilities – that´s why we invented these „camp-jobs“.
Are they only for women?
They are feminist camps for women and transgender. (Open to trans*_gendered persons who identify themselves as feminist. Trans*women and trans*men were among those who came to the self-organized camp in 2012). I have never visited the mixed poly-meetings in Germany, but I have talked to some women who did, and it is obvious that the feminist camps are much safer spaces for women and transgender. And that you can go so much further in developing an alternative relationship culture if you are doing it in a women/trans- space and don´t have to spend lots of time educating the majority of participating men and some of the women on basic knowledge about sexism and gender-roles and the fact that no means no. There seem to be always some male participants who think every woman in a poly-event agrees to have sex with every man that comes along. I am not exactly seeing why dealing with such situations should help me to find solutions for difficulties in my lesbian poly-relationships or should bring me some relief from the pressure of being seen as an object to be used in my daily mono- and hetero-normative surrounding. I admit it: i want to have fun and meet like-minded people – that´s why I started these feminist holidays for alternative relationship culture.
In 2011 I was taking part in a study comparing the poly movement in the US and in Germany. The interviewer had been talking to quite a lot of people of the mixed poly-movement in Germany and had been taken part in their gatherings. She asked me why there is a separate feminist poly movement in Germany. Not much later, when I had told her a little about the feminist poly-camp, how it is organized and how we try to make it a safe space for different needs, so that the sexually adventurous and the shy one, the SM-woman, the asexual and the cuddling-freak all feel welcome and comfortable and find a space to follow their interests, she said: „Wow! That would never be possible at the mixed gathering, they have such a long way to go to come to this point!“ Her comment made me see our achievements in a clearer light and I was happy to have contributed to this pioneer-work of exploring alternative relationships with tender attention to all our limits and wounds. At a slow pace that allows us to go further.
Polyamory and the Revolutionary Power of Language Imagination (ALIVEness & Polyamory)
by Kathryn Fischer  www.alfabus.us
Two questions that come up a lot for me in conversation:
- “Is sex REALLY just like seeing a movie at the cinema? Why then are we so hung up on it?”
- “Do conscientious choices in our language help us to transform our collective understanding and therefore our personal reactions to a given situation?”
For the record, I am not of the opinion that sex is “just like” going to watch a movie. There are just so many differences in these two activities that I cannot even begin to list them. The more important fact is, sex is not THE fundamental experience people can have together. Neither is it “just like” something as potentially banal as a trip to the theater (though the obvious fault in logic here is that a movie could be extremely trans-formative while sex could leave us awash in boredom).
In truth, we needn’t choose between binaries, especially binaries that already face an obvious problematic like the one preciously mentioned. No experience IS or IS NOT any one thing. Sex is not IS. We cannot summarize sex as being one thing or another. It is not always pleasurable, not always spiritual, not always casual, not always emotional, not always loving, not always sexy. The same can be said of a movie, though the two activities are not the same at all. When we are specific about our language, and not afraid of being verbose, we can speak of the multiple nuances of any given experience. In our language we are free to sometimes “let” sex be as friendly as watching a movie together is/was. We can “let” sex be as emotional and trans-formative as that one movie was—and then, perhaps, more.
Why speak at all of Sex in monolithic terms? Rather, why not let ourselves speak of people and relationships and specific instances of sex? After all, not only is sex inconsistent across various partners, is it also inconsistent across one partner, one relationship. Freeing ourselves from the need to generalize or summarize, we can leave room for sex not having to fall into any one category or description.
There are other possibilities in our sociological imaginations that can help us to de-link the ”is it” or “is it not” question. Instead of the binary “people I have sex with or have had sex with” versus “people I don’t have sex with,” we can link the people in our lives with nuanced experiences of sexuality and love, tenderness and affection. Instead of thinking of the last time we had sex with a particular person or at the last time we had sex at all, or the binary border between having and not having, we can think of each person as individual and our spectrum of sexual experiences with them as a long process that lasts a lifetime.
Jenny and I like to hold hands. One time we kissed and many other times we almost kissed. There may be one day that we can sleep next to each other every night for years.
For many years Jessica and I had penetrative sex almost every single day. After some time we began to find ourselves just kissing and holding each other. Now we sleep together every night and we hold each other and enjoy taking baths together. We sometimes have penetrative or oral sex.
There is possibility for exultation in the affection that does exist, rather than a feeling of lack and frustration about the expressions of sexuality that do not exist.
Sex, though it can be profound, can also be more fun than spiritual, more playful than emotional. We can “liken” it to other experiences—but we needn’t. When discussing or defending our sexual practices, sometimes we feel the need to make easy comparisons, but we needn’t. We can simply speak in specifics and in such language find our experiences’ uniqueness—and thus, our partners’ unique characteristics. In this way we can let vocabulary help us in making free associations. Our knowledge of another person can be built on a collection of experiences that we have had together (as opposed to not had). We can easily described these experiences as events (such as the list above that includes kissing, penetrative sex, holding hands) but also as a collection of abstractions, such as smells—colors—shades of arousal—shared goals, dreams.
Daniel reminds me of the color yellow, of order and cleanliness; he reminds me of the things that keep me tethered and logical. In my most chaotic times, he stuck to me. We explored together in our sexuality and we often laughed and talked about what we were doing as we explored each other’s bodies. I called him boyfriend for seven years but I could also call him Daniel. I could also call him [ ].
We can easily speak of how a brother or boyfriend or husband does not fit the mode of MAN or the mode of HUSBAND. We can easily speak of how a girlfriend or wife or sister does not fit the mode of WOMAN or MOTHER. But we could better speak of what he or she IS. If we expect that a husband be someone we can take a shower with, or buy us anniversary gifts, or bring us flowers on Valentine’s Day, or have technical knowledge, or handle financial matters, or initiate sex, or give us oral sex, there will always be at least one expectation unfulfilled. People already do not fall neatly into these categories and intellectually we know this, yet still we experience pain around lack and missing. Especially when we free ourselves through language to take on the challenging aspects of how to describe our relationship, we find more room to write about the various diverse intimacies that we share with a wide variety of people. We free our partner and our expectations of them.
What if we write about people not as how they fit or do not fit into prescribed gender roles? What then if we write about people not as how they fit or do not fit into any prescribed role, any role in GENERAL?
Rather than having to say, for example, “mother,” we can speak of all the things we are reminded of by that person. Mother does not have to be MOTHER like a greeting card mother for mother’s day Mother. She does not have to call on your birthday; you do not have to see each other every year. She can be mentally ill; she can even be a person that in order to stay healthy you cannot see. Yes, a mother can be someone that you can’t see anymore. She does not have to be always there, always the provider. She does not have to be partnered with father or mother. She does not have to be sober, or not abusive. She is still “mother” but she does not have to be society’s “Mother.” The question is, WHAT IS SHE? We can talk about what she IS, as opposed to what she is not.
That is different from saying that all and any behavior from mother is okay or that it should or does feel good. On the contrary. Delinking mother from Mother is simply to let ourselves free of the expectations that mothers be a certain thing and begin to talk more honestly about what our mother is and is for us. And also to allow for other experiences of mothering (with people who are not our mothers) enter our consciousness and fill the feelings of void that we may have in regards to our Mother experience.
This mode of thinking is key in all of our relationships. What if we rather talk about each and every person not as sexual partner or not sexual partner, not as girlfriend or not girlfriend, not as man or not man, not as brother or not brother, but rather, how they fit into our lives through the experiences, smells, and thoughts that we associate with them? What if we speak of the ways that they DO fulfill our needs and desires? What if we are committed to a continual experience of finding and inviting people into our lives who can fulfill our needs and desires in unexpected ways?
Polyamory is not about having sex with as many people as possible, or having as many “romantic” relationships as possible, or about declassifying sex to the point that it is always and ever tantamount to visiting the cinema. Conscientious choice of language in the way that we describe polyamory is not about binding ourselves to so-called politically correct limitations or clean associations in our experience. Rather, polyamory is about finding the nuances and limitless, multiple possibilities of experience across all of our relationships. It is about viewing all relationships as relationships that contain a variety of expressions of intimacy including, not necessarily, but not excluding, sex. It is about freeing ourselves from expectations that can be hurtful and limiting in themselves. Polyamory can fit into our lives beyond our sexual experiences and create revolution in all of our relationships, even if we choose only one person with whom to share our most overt sexual experiences for a consistent period of time or even, over the course of a lifetime (ie sexual monogamy). Our relationships still carry with them the possibility of polyamory as an empowering tool of re-imagination. Language is paramount in that re-imagining.