Redefining Our Relationships: An Interview with Wendy-O Matik
Wendy-O Matik, radical love activist and author of Redefining Our Relationships: Guidelines For Responsible Open Relationships, recently held one of her famous workshops at AK Press. I used the opportunity to do a brief interview…
Hey Wendy, thanks for taking the time to chat it up with us today. How are you? How is your current tour going?
Hi Macio! Thanks so much for your interest in my radical love work. I’m beaming with enthusiasm and radical love inoculations, even after 7 years of peddling polyamory workshops across the globe.
So, you have just completed a radical love workshop at the AK Press warehouse. Tell us, what are your favorite parts about these workshops? Do you have a least favorite part?
My favorite part of the radical love workshop is visibility. There’s this critical moment when a group of total strangers begin to look around the room and acknowledge that they are not alone, we’re not alone, we’re in it together, and we are all struggling to figure out our unique relationships and it is extremely validating. I am deeply grateful to play some small role in bringing people together to create allies and building community support.
My least favorite or most challenging aspect of my workshop is being a facilitator. It can very challenging to occasionally deal with people who frequently dominate a discussion, or people who give unsolicited advice or try to solve someone’s issues. I also get disappointed when I’ve spent the greater part of my work dedicated to how radical love is linked to social justice, revolution, and saving the planet, and still most folks default to sex and juggling multiple sexual partners. I am, of course, more interested in love and intimacy, not sex and sexual conquest. I am committed to smashing patriarchy and relationship heirarchies whenever possible.
These workshops have followed the continued success of your book Redefining Our Relationships. It has been about eight years since it was first published. Are there any lessons you have learned since that would drastically alter any fundamentals in the book? Anything you would add to it?
The workshop is based on the major concepts in my book, but each workshop is definitely the application of open relationships in practice. The workshops offer non-judgment space to tackle our common emotional struggles with juggling more than one love or partner and the workshop fills this need in the community. Some day, I do hope to do a second edition, where I would like to develop at greater length this notion of how the practice of loving more is not just focused on people but also a critical part of loving the planet. Radical love has come to embody a form of political, social, and environmental justice for me, deepening over the years. The tendency for more poly folks to focus on sex, and while sex may be a delicious and fun part of open relationships, it fails to tap into our innate ability to love all species, non-humans and the planet. The radical love philosophy is also an opportunity to save the planet, heal Mother Earth, connect with the cosmos, and work towards envisioning and creating a sustainable community. Radical love has, at this core, an innately spiritual component, centered on global family, a sacred global interconnection.
For example, with respect to radical love activism, I am currently committed to a letter-writing campaign where I write passionate love letters to political activists, environmentalists, political prisoners, artists, journalists, and anyone who has been jailed or exiled for their beliefs or for speaking truth to power. I write love letters to people from all over the world. I also write love letters to US soldiers serving in Iraq in an attempt to persuade them towards peaceful and diplomatic ways for solving our problems abroad.
I also want to take this moment to recognize and speak aloud my awareness around the issue of white privilege, class, and sexuality and the undeniable freedom and choices that are afforded to me because of this privilege. I bring this up because, as a white woman, the issue of race affects all of us personally, and I want to maintain awareness around a progressive poly agenda. It’s been very challenging for me to accept and be reminded that something that feels so liberating to me also retains the same institutional oppressions as the mainstream culture. It is my hope that each of us takes note of this oppressive conditioning and excavates it more fully in your own lives and relationships. It is my hope that I use my privilege thoughtfully and respectfully to facilitate a relationship workshop that brings people of all backgrounds together–be it race, class, gender, religion, disability–to discuss our emotions and challenges. It is my intention to create a non-judgmental space to support each other, perhaps for the first time for many of us. Let’s remember to address white privilege in every aspect of our lives and to carry it into our discussions at home and out there in our community at large.
What are some of your life experiences that have ushered you toward the idea of loving openly and without bounds?
As a child, I was taught to love everyone. As an adult, I still do. I’m an activist of the heart. I have always felt as if I have an enormous capacity to love everyone—the homeless guy down the street, the little old lady next door, someone I just had a 5-hour mind-blowing conversation with, and then, of course, my friends, lovers, and family. When I finally was able to admit to myself (without guilt) that I have a human right and obligation to myself to love as many people as I wanted or needed, then I became aware of how a monogamous relationship, outlined by the status quo, was never going to work for me. I would never be able to conform. Radical love, or the freedom to love who you want, how you want, and as many as you want, has become a way of life for me. Responsible open relationships seek to challenge patriarchy, the media, and our coerced social constructs of a relationship by imagining a non-hierarchical approach to love. As you redefine larger concepts like love, intimacy, sex, and relationships for yourself, you begin to disrupt the shackles of status quo that limit and restrict us from having healthier and more satisfying connections.
In your travels and talks do you have a sense of certain communities becoming more open to the idea of radical love? If not, why? Which communities?
Everywhere I’ve traveled or people I have connected with—from Canada to the US to Australia to Malaysia—are hungry for new relationship models. Many of them are already practicing different kind of open relationship structures and are eager to find others to connect with and discuss openly their unique experiences.
Understandably, going against the grain of how we have been trained to love requires us to confront a lot of inner demons. What are some quick tips for people out there attempting trying to maintain open relationships but running into fears around jealousy, loneliness and other insecurities?
- Read everything you can on the topic of open relationships, jealousy, setting boundaries, communication skills, and building self-esteem.
- Join or create a poly support group via online, chat-rooms, forums, or in your community locally.
- Find workshops and presentations on the topic of open relationships and polyamory. Bring your questions and issues to these gatherings.
- If you’re really struggling emotionally, find a poly-friendly therapist who can help you navigate those difficult issues that you’re facing.
Through your experience, what are some of the most common reasons people choose open relationships over exclusive monogamous relationships )
Many of us cannot keep our hearts under lock and key. Many of us cannot restrain our desires to love many people and to want to explore those attractions more fully and intimately. Many of us feel that one person cannot fulfill all our needs. Many of us understand that instead of cheating and lying, we can find healthy and transparent ways to communicate our desire to be loving with other people. Many of us are hard-wired to love more than just one partner and find monogamy to be very restrictive, controlling, co-dependent, and disabling of our freedom to share our love with others. Many of us feel that monogamy is no guarantee that a person will stay with you forever.
For less of a field-study question: Why would someone choose to have an open relationship over an exclusive monogamous relationship?
Speaking only for myself, life is too short to not love many people. I have an enormous capacity to love, to cultivate intimate, meaningful, passionate connections with more than one person. I have never been one to hoard love—it is meant to be given away, shared, and passed along.
Any regrets? (about what? I don’t know! )
No, on the contrary, even after the loss of a 13-year open relationship/marriage, I came to learn how thankful I was for keeping my heart open to other lovers. They were there to help me through the most difficult transition in my life and their love and support fueled my belief and conviction as a radical love warrior for open relationships.
I attended a workshop of yours back in ’08 at the Longhaul and recall you speaking of open love not only positively transforming the ways we live our individual lives but also having an impact on the larger injustices of capitalism and the patriarchal pyramid of oppression and exploitation. Tell us a little about how you see one having an affect on the other.
Radical love has the potential to shift the dominant paradigm, to embrace institutional change and to dismantle systems of oppression, such as capitalism, greed, and patriarchy, but only if we’re interested in smashing the system and rebuilding it with a more holistic paradigm to replace it. As a feminist and anarchist in spirit, open relationships go to the very core of patriarchy and threaten to disrupt men’s historical control over how we love, who we love, how many we love, and so on.
The societal and cultural reality is that we are a far cry from sexual equality in this day and age. Men, straight or gay, have benefited from the luxury of sexual liberation without so much as their moral values being scrutinized by society. Women, whether straight or queer, have no such freedom. Labels such as “slut” or “nympho” continue to plague women who seek sexual autonomy. These stereotypes and misconceptions are perpetuated in the media, government, educational system, religious institutions, and even within the women’s movement. We still have a long way to go before we can dismantle these derogatory perceptions and liberate ourselves from the social constraints that have been imposed upon us since birth. The first place to start is with one’s self, confronting your own self-imposed guilt and your fears of stepping outside the standards of societal norms. It starts with freeing your mind, body, and heart to love openly despite judgment.
Who are some of the most influential authors in your approach to relationships & love?
To name just a few:
- The Ethical Slut: A Guide to Infinite Sexual Possibilities by Dossie Easton & Catherine A. Liszt
- Gaia and the New Politics of Love: Notes for a Poly Planet by Serena Anderlini-D’Onofrio
- Living My Life: An Autobiography by Emma Goldman
- Opening Up: A Guide to Creating and Sustaining Open Relationships by Tristan Taormino
- Polyamory: The New Love without Limits by Dr. Deborah M. Anapol
Wendy, aside from an abundance of workshops, talks and interviews are there any other exciting projects your fans can look forward to seeing from you?
Hopefully, a second edition some day to come. I’m considering a poly blog, but my activist side prefers to spend my life outside, fueling the radical love revolution, rather than hooked up to the computer. I’m not sure I’ve figured out a way to do radical love and bring down civilization, without turning off my computer!
Before you get out of here there are some personal questions our readers would like to know:
Where are you from? Ever think of leaving the Bay Area ?
I was born in Pomona, CA—17 years. I’ve lived in the Bay Area for over 20 years, and I am currently trying to move back to Sonoma County to live on land in community, grow my own food, and keep my hands in the dirt as much as possible.
What are your plans for Valentines day? You don’t have to reveal if any surprises will be ruined!
I dislike the consumerist and materialistic side of V-Day, unless were talking Pussy Power. But I do coincidently have a massage date with a lover on Feb. 14th.
Lastly, something I’m sure everyone is dying to know: what is your sign?
I was born July 19, 1966 at 4:01pm in Covina, CA. I am a Cancerian Warrior for Love with my Uranus-Pluto conjunction at the Midheaven, while my Venus squares Saturn.