Eugene is pleasant in the spring. Flat enough to be excellent to bike almost everywhere, with little car traffic which is mostly well behaved. The university brings new faces every year and clever talk. There is an impressive array of restaurants and natural food stores to serve locals and visitors alike. Well maintained parks and nature preserves surround Eugene, with accessible hiking and biking.
The politics of the town are mostly liberal to progressive with some colorful radicals thrown in for spice. It is also where some of my favorite people in the world live, including Tree and Abigail. Abigail invited me to present at her work with SWAT (Sexual Wellness and Advocacy Team). She wanted to do group trust building, so i did an introduction to transparency tools which was quite well received.
When i got there, some students expressed interest in the communes so i did a rapid introduction of them. Which ended with the lines:
We keep track of our energy and materials use within the income sharing communities and what we find is that our per person carbon footprint is about 20% of that of our mainstream US counterparts. This 80% reduction in carbon emissions corresponds with where the UN’s IPCC thinks all industrial countries should be by 2050. The problem is that almost no one else knows how to get here.
The communes are not brilliant in our use of renewables. Nor do we carefully conserve every kilowatt hour of electricity. The thing we are really good at is sharing resources. In my view, this is the only way to save the world while maintaining a lifestyle which is vaguely similar to what people in rich countries are already experiencing. If your grandchildren don’t hate you, it will be because as a nation we figured out how to share resources well.
Frankly, i think i went over the head of some of these otherwise clever students. It is not a message one hears very often and people are generally dismissive about the significance of sharing. And for me there is no escaping the importance of it. It is at the center of the Point A project and much of the outreach work we do.
If Willow has kids, i want them to like me.
“… i will personally escort you off the property” Belladonna is serious about consent. And if you don’t embrace how it is done at Acorn, your visit might be cut short.
She created this workshop (one of the very few visitor orientations) in response to a real need in community. Perhaps one quarter of the visitors rejected for membership by Acorn over the last two years are due to failures to understand our consent culture.
Typically, these were not gross sexual assaults, but rather were mistakes by basically fine people who were not familiar with or paying attention to our culture. Sometimes they were intoxicated, sometimes part of the problem is they come from a culture where people don’t ask others before they touch, sometimes guests misinterpret non-verbal signals, sometimes they were fooled by parties where the consent rules appeared to be relaxed.
Don’t be fooled, the rules are never relaxed. The purpose of the workshop is to insure that the community is a safe place for members and guests alike and that these recent mistakes become a thing of the past.
While the topic is heavy, the form of the workshop is accessible. Belladonna and Rejoice do short skits to demonstrate both problems and proper approaches. There is more laughing than lecturing.
New concepts are introduced to many of the participants. You can’t ask for Green Light Consent, it has to be offered. Green Light means you have a prior agreement with someone about permissible physical or sexual interactions and it is delineated. “You can always hug me” someone offers.
A visitor asks about how shaking hands as an introduction fits into the culture, but then quickly figures out themselves that there is an effective non-verbal communication built into this ritual. You would never grab a hand which was not offered back.
Sometimes failures are well meaning. At the communities conference there was a blind participant who was occasionally asking for help in her process of mentally mapping the site. A helpful person lightly turned her in the right direction, this was not what she wanted at all, because the “helpful” contact was not explicitly requested nor approved.
There is an introduction to toplessness. Acorn tries to be a liberated zone and when it is hot, both men and women can choose to go without shirts. This is novel to many visitors and rather than being surprised by it, this workshop both warns of it’s likelihood and encourages people to not stare nor presume there is a sexual message where there is not one.
And there is compassion for the stranger to our culture. If you are uneasy conversing with someone who is topless, better to say something and take space than to act strangely pretending that nothing is wrong when you are uncomfortable.
i walk away from this gathering proud of us, knowing that this is the way things get better and we are building the place we want to live.
“Can i touch you there” i asked as we became more sexual
“Are you going to keep asking that?” Gryphon replied
“It is my culture.” i answered
“It is not mine, please stop.” But her smile was clearly not a “no”
After our fun and exhausting evening of love making, we spoke longer about consent. What we established was Gryphon was offering something which i am calling “green light consent” which means all of the following:
- You are invited to initiate any type of physical intimacy, without asking
- You will keep your senses up to make sure what you are doing is desired
- It is on the person offering the green light to stop verbally or physically things they don’t want to happen (or don’t yet want to happen) early
- And because of the green light, they send these stop signals without resentment or upset.
The last point is especially important. Love making for many is a flow experience. Many also know early on that they want to have a robust sexual experience with their new partners and don’t especially want to be checking in at each point. But if you are going to drive without metaphorical seat belts, you need to handle mistakes gracefully. Perhaps your new partner bites you too hard or has surprised you in an uncomfortable way, if you don’t want to be interrupted by these check in questions, you need to make complete agreements at first or you need to respond to mistakes without blame.
We are trying to build a new healthy consent culture. But just writing “consent is sexy” in lots of places is not enough. Part of what is going on is that since there have been so many date rapes, so many failures to get consent, so much poor communication – with the new consent norms are designed to be more careful and intentional. This is approach is sometimes called the Oberlin Model where some of the pioneering work on healthy consent has been done.
And many people are not used to asking before they touch someone they are attracted to or granting permission for contact, especially people who formed there sexually active identities before these new norms were established.
And what this lovely evening with Gryphon reminded me is that we probably need lots of different types of consent models, rather than pretending one size fits all.
Unsure of his surroundings, he made his way through the almost 4-mile dirt road. The people he found were extremely happy. The area was full of peace, serenity, love, and acceptance. Falcon was ecstatic. He has been at Acorn for less that 36 hours and he is totally in love. He had just traveled for several days from Minneapolis to help his lover Dragon move to Acorn. He had figured out that the mainstream was soul sucking, despite working very hard for his corporate bar-tending job, he was in danger of getting fired for not selling enough appetizers. This type of employment practice isn’t as uncommon as one would think.
But the easy part is seeing that the mainstream corporate world sucks. The harder part is believing that this world might work for you. A world without the security of a pay check, where you do not have to build your resume to survive. A place without the tacit approval of family and friends who can not help but be skeptical about commune life. After all, mainstream populations are taught what is right and what is wrong, rather than being taught the skill of critical thinking and trying to understand ‘why’, and conversely questioning that concept.
Falcon and I spoke often over the long night of the rave. He felt a fully embraced and by his partner’s new community, in the context of the rave very few people were holding back and it can be overpowering – the affection and attention. But Falcon, despite knowing almost no one, is flying in it.
i teased him about his life value being measured in appetizer sales. We talked about writing stories together which somehow captured the magic of this event. He wants to write and he wants to build community. I warned him not to presume that highly amorous and permissive intimacy of the party was what happened every day. Acorn can do this is because there is a strong consent culture here and he wants and needs to be part of that.
I also warned him that other people were going to fall in love with him and his stunning boyfriend, and they were not always going to be as generous and gracious as they were this evening. Falcon understood this was going to stretch his relationship. He embraced it with open wings, however, because he knows that this is an excellent way to live a happy, fulfilling life. At least for himself and those who choose to be around him.
And he is clearly a smart guy. He will make it work when the party is over and our other work of building community life kicks in. I left him and the last few members of the daybreak party crew with the cool breeze of the rising sun behind me. What a beautiful sight. It is something that is difficult to describe, really. And sometimes just one beautiful experience is all anyone needs to catch a good enough glimpse of what the promising future full of love, happiness, and acceptance can bring.
We have a bunch of parties. Many of them small and informal, with basically no outreach or invitation process so if you dont know folks at the commune, or if you dont happen to be there on the right day you will miss it. We also have much larger and publicly announced events like New Years, Validation Day and Land Day. For many of the larger events we post on Facebook, send emails out to ex-member and friends of community and get the word out. And we often say something like “You need to have a host to come to this party.”
For New Years at Twin Oaks (which is a very popular party) we go further and say “If you have never been to Twin Oaks before, this party should not be your first visit.” The thinking is that we would like most of the members to have at least a little bit of experience with the people who are attending and we would like the outsiders who come to have some minimal experience with the commune, so they are not asking the most basic questions about what we are doing and how we are organized. And so they have some experience with our culture and agreements.
When i asked GPaul about what the protocol was for the upcoming Acorn’s Midsummer’s Night Reve, he said “people who have never been to Acorn before can come, but it is their hosts responsibility to make sure that they fit in”. This means if you invite a guest who is culturally out of place and there are problems associated with that guest, these problems come to you to deal with. This could include someone being intoxicated in an unpleasant way (either too rowdy or physically sick) or someone who has a poor understanding or behavior around out strong consent culture and is hitting on people in an unpleasant way or grabbing folks without their consent.
But what this rule really does is it makes the host think about their prospective guest in a more critical and selective way. “Is friend X going to act up in a way in which i will need to intervene if i invite them?” you ask yourself. And if the answer is “possibly yes”, you pause and think “perhaps another time.”
i hate the expression “you had to be there”, In part because it is clearly impossible for you to be if the event has already happened, but it also makes the claim that some aspect of the experience is not describable – which i find annoying.
And yet, it is what i feel about the last Acorn party i attended. Technically, it was Mardocks birthday. He had recently returned from his commune adventures in Missouri and we are most happy to have him back at Acorn. We are blessed with an especially lovely collection of interns and guest these days, which adds new interesting personalities to the already solid group of longer term Acorners.
Part of what made it wonderful for me was dancing and flirting with Pavan who is one of our more enigmatic members, part of the capable IT team and a sleep anarchist. Who at one point broke out is light gloves and gave a fantastic show in the Rec Collective.
Part of what was going on for me was that i felt well appreciated, lots of the conversations were about what people respected and enjoyed about the other folks there. There was excellent consent culture, which is both important and sexy to me.
i must confess and affection for parties which go long and this one certainly did. Mac and i retreated to the trampoline as things started to wind down just before the sun came up. We watched to glorious super moon, made love, chatted deeply about our curious romance and listened to the birds wake up and sing.
You had to be there.
One of the most studied attacks in military history is the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbor at the end of 1941 near the start of WW2. One of the often criticized aspects of this daring and hugely successful attack was the failure of the Japanese to launch a third wave. Had the Japanese hit a third time, they would have been able to destroy much of the pearl harbor infrastructure and would have set back the US pacific fleet from attacking Japan perhaps by years.
Similarly, organizers of the great Acorn 20th Anniversary Land Day party needed an exceptionally successful after party, to both finish the beer left behind at the main event and to offer something wonderful but much smaller and more intimate to the people who made this large commemorative event happen. The pants-less dance party was everything it needed to be to deliver this critical third wave of fun.
Part of what made it tremendously successful was that it was organized in the highly organic, super low overhead Acorn style. [This is quite different for me than the Twin Oaks parties i have helped plan which have far more meetings and logistics associated with them.] For the Land Day after party the organizing went like this.
“We have two kegs of beer left over.”
“We should have a party and drink at least some of it!”
“What will get people to come to such a party?”
“We could have a pants-less dance party at the Rec Collective!”
That was it. No advertising (all word of mouth). No fancy decorations. No invite, you had to be at Acorn already to know about it to be there. Someone did put out a cool blue colored flashing light. i wore a skimpy green negligee, tho i changed dress theatrically a couple of times over the evening.
What made it an excellent after party (in my never humble opinion) is: It was quite lively. It was quite sexy without being raunchy. It was inter-generational. It had mostly people who knew each other with a handful of trusted outsiders. We practiced fabulous consent culture with lots of people asking to kiss or touch other people. There was a highly fluid mix of dancing, cuddling, chatting and making out. These things happened between the three spaces of the rec collective small dance floor, the newly constructed giant mattress in the rec collective and near by smoke shack.
It also felt like a gift to most of the organizers who had made the big land day event happen, who had to do next to nothing for this nice event.
- April is #ReleaseTheReport April 4, 2019
- Digital Iron Lips February 26, 2019
- School? December 14, 2018
- Camping with Rachel December 7, 2018
- GivingTuesday – Rustling Roots November 27, 2018
- Mega development in Louisa November 23, 2018
- 7000 Doors November 16, 2018
- November is “Gov. Gillum” November 4, 2018
- Want to Phone Bank? October 28, 2018