The following capture many of our reflections in designing our code of conduct and associated policy. It was a hard process, involving many conversations and struggles. And we know it is not perfect. We do not know if we have found the best answer. Our code of conduct and accompanying policy is a living, working document, and we invite feedback on it or this piece in the comments section below. (You can also email us directly.)
There is no single polyamorous community, but rather a network of overlapping communities that share some idea about how love and relationship can work. The goal of Poly Speed Dating is to allow these communities to connect, to expand our worlds as we also find others to have relationships with.
This can be a scary thing to experience. Dating is scary, for many. Meeting people is scary, for many. And, in fact, sometimes these fears are justified. In any community there will be people that have caused harm, and will probably cause harm again as they struggle with their own damage and histories.
In principle, those that cause such harm could be banished from a community, if we could identify them. But the idea of banishment, once considered one of the worst punishments a community could manifest, does not mesh well with the idea that all have the ability to heal. The idea of banishment feels very local: protect our own, send our problems elsewhere. The experience of banishment seems like something that could exacerbate, reinforcing and expanding the bitterness and alienation that creates monsters. We do not see it as healthy for a community to lean towards restriction and exclusion in an attempt to guarantee safety. Banishment is a very serious act.
But safety is also important. Worrying about harm to someone who is causing or has caused harm, while letting those who may have been harmed bear the cost is no move towards social justice. The question is then what we, as organizers, should do.
Our balance is to attempt to structure our events in such a manner that while people might not be entirely comfortable, they will be safe. We work to create a space where people can play with meeting people in a context where potential for harm is greatly limited.
A foundation for achieving this is to enforce our code of conduct, to not allow people to invade other’s space and cause excessive discomfort. At our events, everyone has the right to be left alone by anyone they find undesirable in any way. No one is required to sit through a date they do not want to be on, or talk to people they don’t want to talk to. If people cannot conduct themselves in a manner that aligns with these values, we will ask them to leave and not return. If anyone is violating these principles, we hope people will approach us, the staff, so we can take action on the spot. Furthermore, if people repeatedly have notes about them on other people’s dating sheets or feedback forms when we read them after the event, we take the constellation of poor experiences as evidence that this person should be asked to not participate in future events. We hope these actions, and this intolerance of abusive behavior, will make our events safe enough.
But we do not feel we are able to make such decisions based on reports of history unrelated to our events. We simply do not know everyone in the many communities that attend, we do not know how to separate situational behavior–a bad break up or catastrophic mismatch of expectations–from the damage of predatory behavior. We do not know what the various lines separating acceptable and unacceptable are for different groups of people. Even if we tried, the system would be imperfect: we would miss some who have done harm, while simultaneously suggesting a degree of safety, of vetted dating participants, that is not in fact present. We let strangers sign up for Poly Speed Dating.
This reflection came in part from inquiries about missing stairs. From Wikipedia we have “Missing stair is an analogy for a sexual predator who many people know cannot be trusted, but who they work around by trying to quietly warn others rather than deal with openly.” It is unclear what the solution to missing stairs is, and we expect it varies depending on the stair in question. But our events cross multiple communities, are a microcosm of meeting and dating people in the broad world. We do not know what “dealing with it openly” would look like here. Banishment, in particular, does not deal with it openly.
Overall, we decided to take strong action to prevent harm in our space, but also find ourselves forced to say that you should date at your own risk. Ours is a venue to fairly safely meet strangers, but only so much can be learned upon an initial meeting.