“I’m going to be presenting at Winter Wickedness down in Columbus,” I told my wife. “It’s another kink convention. It would be easier for me if you didn’t go.”
This was a conversation we had to have, but I wasn’t looking forward to having it.
See, kink conventions are a new thing in our lives, and my wife’s never been to one. The first time I’d been asked to talk on polyamory was at the Geeky Kink Event: New England two years ago, and that marked the start of our long nightmare with our goddaughter. I’d asked Gini along to co-present with me – and why not? if I’m talking about poly, she’s smarter than I am – and she’d happily agreed.
Literally two hours out from the convention, we got the call that our goddaughter had gone into convulsions and was being medivaced out to Philadelphia. We cancelled. And spent the next nine months watching brain cancer take this precious girl we loved from us.
Not a good time for sexy convention fun.
But the Geeky Kink Event asked me back the next year, and I decided that for me, a vital step in my recovery was getting out again. Yet in the wake of our goddaughter’s death, Gini had acquired an anxiety about crowds. So she told me to go alone, and I did…
…and I had a great time. The kink actually led to some breakthroughs in my grief; there were moments where I was forcibly restrained so I could let loose with the huge sorrow I felt, and not feel like I could be torn apart by this infinite sadness.
But it was also fun. I was effectively single poly at these conventions, free to do whatever I liked, not having to coordinate with anyone’s schedule. If I wanted to do fireplay or take someone back to my room for cuddles and conversations, I could do that. I did a lot of smooching. I lost myself for a bit.
It was so much fun that I went and did it again at the next Geeky Kink Event, where Gini was still worried about being among hundreds of people in a noisy, potentially panicky environment. And that event was another time for Slutty Weasel to come out and play, a safe space where I could flirt and feel unabashedly good about life, which helped my recovery process.
And as I drove back from GKE cheerfully marked up by friends, I pondered how things were getting awkward on the convention front.
It would be harder and harder to integrate Gini into this convention life I had, the longer I did it. And that wasn’t the kinkiness of these cons that was going to be an issue, though that was a contributing factor: it was that I was creating a parallel social life that my wife was not at all involved in.
See, if you’re doing conventions right, you accrete friends as you go. You have a great conversation in a hallway, you friend each other on Twitter, and the next thing you know you have someone you really want to catch up with the next time you see them! The first con is usually a little lonely, but by the second con you have people greeting you in the lobby, and by the third time you hit a con you get to what I call “critical mass” – i.e., so many fun people you want to talk to that you can’t possibly schedule them all in.
This had happened at my writing-conventions before, too. I had so many people to catch up with that I was booked solid with my friends.
And by the time Gini came along to our first big writer-con, she felt a little isolated. I was always catching up with people I was so stoked to see, and while I introduced her as best I could, the fact was that I was at a con where I had tons of people who I had a past history with, and she was starting fresh. She felt a bit like a third wheel, even though so many people were psyched to meet my wife (who I don’t ever stop talking about, for the record).
So she felt lonely at the first couple of cons. Eventually, with a bunch of dinners and talks at parties, she started to form her own connections. Now she has her own friends she sees at the sci-fi cons – and there’s a bunch of overlap with the people I know, but she has her own bonds with folks now.
It was a hurdle.
But at a kink con, well, things can get awkward. The default mode of interaction at a sci-fi con is the group chat, where anyone can hop on-board. And that’s present at kink conventions, too! There’s a lot of great conversations to be had in the lobby, just like any other convention.
But the prevalent mode at a con is the scene – you and someone else doing something one-on-one. And so at a kink con, if I just did what I’d been doing before, I’d leave Gini alone for half the day while I went off and did fireplay.
Considering she’s still working through her anxiety of crowds, that would be a spectacularly shitty experience for her.
So I sat her down for a talk. “Look,” I said. “When I go to a kink convention, I spend a lot of time alone with people. And I really, really like this freedom of just being able to go off with whoever and do whatever. It would be a lot easier, and actually more fun for me in a lot of ways, if you didn’t show up…
“…but I don’t want that.”
Because yeah, it’s fun to go to a convention and stay up until 4:00 in the morning curled up talking with a girl I just met. It’s fun to do five straight hours of fireplay and not have to think about anyone else. It’s fun to be super-selfish.
But the danger of that is that I build a parallel social life, one where my wife isn’t welcome to visit.
And there’s nothing wrong with building parallel lives that my wife doesn’t *want* to visit. When I had a Magic group, my wife wanted nothing to do with that because she dislikes the complexity of Magic, and that was fine. If Gini wants to go to quilting seminars or something, I don’t care, enjoy yourself. If you have activities you like pursuing, you shouldn’t lop them off to fit neatly within a partner’s comfort-box.
But Gini likes conventions, and she likes sexy things – she listens avidly when I tell her of my grand adventures at these cons, amused by all the nuttiness that happens there. And as convenient as it might be to leave her behind because she’s still processing the several great losses she had in 2014, that would create a slow schism between us.
That schism wouldn’t be her resentment.
It would be me, evolving in the absence of my wife.
Part of the reason our marriage works so fucking well is that Gini and I are on the same page. Marriages break apart often not because people were bad for each other, but because people were great for each other when they started and then drifted apart. If you could somehow reset them to the people they were when they made their vows, then they’d still be together.
And kink conventions are potentially life-changing situations. It’s where you discover new forms of sexuality that you want to pursue, see other ways of approaching relationships, uncover sides of yourself that you’d never recognized before. Going into the Kinky Geek Event I didn’t realize how cathartic being held down could be, but a rope scene helped drain some toxic grief from my wounds…
…and Gini wasn’t there for that. She wasn’t with me in the hours afterwards to help me process that. She wasn’t seeing all the forms my grief could take.
When something big changes in my life, I want Gini there to see it. Because she’s a part of me, and goddammit, even if she’s not holding the rope she holds my heart.
“Yeah,” I said. “I won’t get to fool around as much at the conventions, if you come. And I’ll have to shepherd you around for a while until you can find your own friends there, and hopefully your own scenes. And I’m not trying to force you – if you don’t want to go, then we’ll find some other way to work this out. But if you’re just scared to go because crowds still flip you out, then I will find some way to bring you there, and if you have to spend the whole goddamned weekend attached to me at the hip, then I will do that.
“Because I need you to walk next to me, even if that’s not always convenient.”
She didn’t go to Winter Wickedness. Her mother passed on in November, and she’s still grieving, and it was too soon.
But she’s coming to the next convention. And that means I get less fireplay, I get less just running off for snuggles, I have more maintenance and concern at these cons as I ensure my wife is comfortable in this new place.
I cannot fucking wait.
Cross-posted from Ferrett's Real Blog.