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In this episode of The Turn On, Erica and Kenrya talk to Cherí Calico Roman, co-founder of Black Poly Pride, about the ins and outs of polyamory.
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Kenrya: Come here. Get off.
Kenrya: Our guest today is Cherí Calico Roman, pronouns she and her. Cherí's a 29-year-old Philadelphia native and the co-founder of Black Poly Pride. She is a polyamorous community organizer, activist, professional doula, and birthing advocate who is currently dedicated to curating a seduction renaissance. Aye! I like how that sounds.
Kenrya: We are so glad that you're here with us. Thank you so much for saying yes.
Cherí: Thank you so much for having me. It was hard not to consent.
Kenrya: We like consent.
Erica: We like an enthusiastic yes.
Cherí: It's sexy!
Erica: So, Cherí, Kenrya said, just read your bio, but can you tell us in your own regular ass words, or not so regular ass words, what you do?
Cherí: So, currently what I do is in flux. My co-founder, Chanee Jackson Kendall and I co-founded a conference last year that was just supposed to be a pool party but ended up being so much more. So I have gone from just organizing events in our community for young Black poly people, which is how we started, curating events for people ages 35 and younger in the community, to now going into the realm of building this pride weekend for people who identify as being Black polyamorous, or those who love us.
Kenrya: That's dope. Wow.
Cherí: And I'm from Philadelphia, and when we do pride here, we have a Black pride-
Erica: Everybody, yeah.
Cherí: And we have a world pride. And the amount of nuance, like violence that happens to Black people when they go to predominantly white spaces is something that I was not willing to subject my community to. The young, Black, and poly people.
Cherí: And I said I want them to experience a pride weekend, but I don't want it to be necessary for them to assimilate into these spaces where it's not a safe space for them.
Kenrya: And so you made it yourself?
Cherí: Yes. So we really, Chanee and I, started out just like, "We're going to build this thing."
Erica: This will be a small party.
Cherí: Right. And it's like we're trying to convince... We're doing the rounds, convincing everybody like, "Listen, give us a 100... I think it was $125," and literally the money was just to pay for... It's all inclusive. So you give us $125. You don't have to worry about eating, where you're going to eat. You don't have to worry about we're going to this place and you having to pull out your wallet. The ticket is all inclusive, and that's on purpose.
Cherí: And even the hotel that we stayed in, we made sure that all of the rooms had kitchens in them, so that people from all socio-economic backgrounds could come, have a great time and it wasn't super expensive to do so.
Kenrya: Awesome. Yeah. Awesome.
Cherí: Thank you. We're having a fundraiser, Martin Luther King weekend in DC. We want to connect with the community. We like to go in with our boots on the ground so to speak, but it's also a fundraiser and it kicks off our six months of grabbing or pushing for people to register. Because it's one of the things that we are learning as we go along, is that Black people don't necessarily know about the conference scene, and what it takes to put on a conference. It's not like a usual event where you just can wait the last week to get your ticket. Because the week before Black Poly Pride last year, we thought we were going to have 30 people, and we ended up having 85 full weekend passes, and then I think we sold another 25.
Kenrya: Ooh Niggas on CP time!
Erica: Niggas! That's exactly what I thought.
Cherí: It was insane. So we're like registration, registration, registration, register.
Erica: You don't show up at somebody's house and not tell them you are coming.
Kenrya: Right. What's the best place for people to register?
Cherí: So we push a lot of our registration on our social media of course, but we also have our website like BlackPolyPride.com. I don't know why I didn't just say that during the... www.BlackPolyPride.com. But we push it constantly, consistently on our social media, and that's going to ramp up now the January is here. Because one thing that we learned is that starting registration too early, people forget about you.
Kenrya: Yeah, it becomes phased into background noise.
Cherí: It's kind of like our sweet spot.
Kenrya: Yeah. I have helped plan and promote a ton of conferences. It's not a game... So my hat's off to you. So yeah, we read in your bio that outside of doing the Black Poly Pride, that you're also a doula and a birthing advocate. I'm really interested in how the various parts of your work build on and influence each other, can you talk a little bit about that?
Cherí: Well, I have been... I started off working in child development in teaching. I have a degree in early childhood education. And one of the things that always struck me was this, the ways in which Black mothers are not supported in various ways. And I traveled down this path, it went from them not being supported when they need care to them dying in mass during childbirths.
Cherí: And I believe that what I do as a community organizer in the Black polyamorous community is really advocate for closeness and intimacy. And also for people to recognize that love is all about a journey back to self. And I think that that's what I also do with my doula clients, is allowing them to create a space that is very personalized, and that is ultimately about them. And I think that that's something that they don't get to do often.
Kenrya: That's awesome.
Erica: You said that so beautifully.
Kenrya: Yeah. Yeah.
Erica: What was the prevailing attitude about sex in your home growing up?
Cherí: The prevailing attitude about sex in my home. I am the baby of the nuclear family that I grew up in, so I had two older brothers and I did grow up in a household with a dad from New Orleans. So it's like this machismo attitude. But also, I think being from that particular area in the South, my dad was very free within vocal about sex.
Cherí: So he talked about it, but it was always in the manner of not giving sex away. I think virginity, we're just now shifting our attitudes about what that means for Black women, and just women in general, but especially in the Black community. A lot of our value is tied to virginity. We just had this big scandal with TI and his daughter relating to her virginity, and what that means. And my dad never went that far as to going to the doctors with me or anything like that. But it's definitely something that we talked about in my life early and often.
Cherí: I remember the first conversations about sex being around the age of five, but they were definitely tied to fear. This thought of vocalizing, if someone touches you inappropriately, or that it's okay to say something. So there's this thought of this kind of conflicting energy of my body being mine, and the idea of consent and no one's allowed to touch me. But also don't give your body away.
Kenrya: So when do you get touched in that dynamic?
Erica: But how did you come to your current views about sex? Was there like a defining moment, or was it just an accumulation of lived experiences?
Cherí: I think it's accumulation of experiences, because I discovered a poly lifestyle at the age of 12.
Erica: Wow. Wow.
Cherí: So being in Philadelphia, we have a very large Islamic community. So plural marriage was not something that was foreign to me. I had friends and cousins who were second and third wives. And I think that broadened my perspective of what it means to be a woman. And it's very rooted in what a lot of people look over when they think of Islam and multiple wives and polygamy, is that it's really rooted in this parable that I want for my sister what I want for myself.
Cherí: And so, if I want a good partner and I want a great husband and I want my sisters to have the same thing. And so that opened my mind to sharing in love. And then, once I had discovered my queer identity, because I identify as bisexual and demisexual, that kind of opened me up even more.
Kenrya: Could you tell us what... I think most people who are listening are familiar with what bisexual is. But can you tell us a little bit about demisexual as an identity?
Cherí: Demisexual as an identity means that I need an emotional connection with someone in order to broach a sexual relationship with them.
Kenrya: So have all of your, or the majority of your relationships been polygamous— polyamorous? Or was it something that you dipped in and then have come back and forth to, that kind of thing?
Cherí: Polyamory for me isn't necessarily rooted in a dynamic or relationship orientation. I identify as solo poly. And so, the people I love and the relationships that I'm in are firmly rooted in my self-identification and my autonomy.
Kenrya: I love that. And so, actually that was going to be a question that we would ask later. But I would really love to hear, in our last episode, we read a book called “From Scratch,” and in that book this relationship at the center of this story looked like three people who were loving each other, both emotionally and sexually in all the ways. But we know that ethical nonmonogamy can look a lot of different ways. I think our listeners would probably love to hear a little bit more about what that looks like for you on a daily basis.
Cherí: What polyamory looks like for me on a daily basis?
Kenrya: Mm-hmm (affirmative). Because you just said, it can look a lot of different ways, if people express it in a lot of different ways.
Cherí: Definitely. Polyamory for me, especially at this juncture in my life, is very interesting, simply because I find myself in several relationships, but majority of my relationships currently are with women. And I am in a relationship where we are basically like a tribe of women. There are 18 of us, and we have very varying relationships with one another. Some platonic, some romantic and non-sexual, some just strictly sexual.
Cherí: And so, I believe that right now for me, polyamory very much is this fluid thing where it's not necessarily about who is doing life with me every single day, but who's doing love with me. And I think that that can run the gamut, and it looks different. Sometimes it's platonic, sometimes it's strictly romantic. It could be non-sexual. And sometimes it's a myriad. It's a coupling of those things in the ebb and flow.
Cherí: And I'm really enjoying the freedom of that right now, and I think that that's what my life mirrors, is this freedom to say, I'm not just so and so's girlfriend, which I think is something that in the beginning of my polyamorous journey is that I always ran into this wall of my value was dictated by who I was connected to in the community.
Kenrya: That's powerful.
Erica: Yes. This was great. Again, so happy you joined this. This was a great way to kick off the new year. Your situation with the... As you described it with the tribe of 18 women, you just made it sound so beautiful.
Kenrya: It sounds like heaven.
Erica: I know, I'm like...
Cherí: It's actually something that I manifested. So in 2018, at the beginning of the year, I made a post in this group that I'm in. And I wrote this post about are you ready to love another woman? And I don't mean loving another woman as it standing until prince charming comes along. But are you ready to love a woman in her personhood? Not just as a fetish, not just as someone that you want to have sex with, but why are you sitting around waiting for love from a man.
Cherí: And I feel like oftentimes Black women especially who identify as bi and pan, other forms of queer identifiers. Oftentimes feel like they still need that man to take home for their family.
Erica: Why are you so damn loud. I feel attacked over here.
Kenrya: Did it hit you right here?
Cherí: Sorry. I just was talking about... But I was talking to myself as well, because I had just grown out of that, and I'm like I want loving, intimate relationships with women. I felt like the universe was calling for that, for Black women to get back to loving one another. Because what happens in the Black poly community, especially online, the amount of women, there are maybe seven women to every one man, because it's actually more beneficial for men to not be ethical and transparent.
Kenrya: And easier.
Cherí: And easier. You don't have to be accountable. You don't have to do all of this work that comes along with being open and ethical and transparent. So there are just more women. But those women also tend to identify on the queer spectrum. And so it's like, we have so many women who are waiting for prince charming, waiting for a man to have a baby, waiting for a man to really fall into these deep loving, meaningful relationships. It's like why?
Kenrya: What reaction did you get from that post?
Cherí: So many women said it resonated with them. It has over 300 comments on it. I still comes up every once in a while. And May of 2019... So I met these women in May of 2018. So January was when I made this post and did the manifestation of this reality. And May is when I planned an all-women's trip to help plan an all-women's trip to Clearwater, Florida. And we all went on this trip together and it was like alchemy.
Cherí: And on that trip there were 21 of us, and some fell off along the way, because I feel like that's just natural how relationships go. But we are now a year and a half in, and there's still 18 of us. And we're exchanging gifts for the holidays and visiting one another regularly. One of our girlfriends just had major surgery and four of the girlfriends went to Dallas to support her. And we're really investing in one another and doing life with one another.
Cherí: And it's this thing, because we had this hashtag #21Girlfriends, and so it's this thing where everyone I think thought it was a joke at first. The poly groups and the community, and then they keep-
Erica: Our shit outlasts y'all.
Cherí: Seeing pictures in there of us and they're like, "Wait, they're serious. They're real." They're like, "Oh, they went on an anniversary trip." And what's also funny is, everyone doesn't know everyone who's a girlfriend. So there's a lot of mixed image of who's in our relationship.
Erica: There's one ignorant man in a corner with a wall and a bunch of strings attached to the pictures.
Kenrya: Trying to tie everybody together.
Cherí: We said that we were going to open ourselves up to accepting male partners, because we were like, "We need like a solid four. We need like a solid four for when we go... Because we go on site-
Erica: I can only imagine the eyes you get.
Cherí: So this year we're going to Hedo, so we're super excited. It's actually to celebrate my last summer of my twenties, before I turn 30. So it's called Hedo Cherry Pop. We're all going to Hedo together. We're really excited about what's going to happen, because we have... Four of my girlfriends are Hedo vets. They go every year. And I'm like, I'm going to actualize my freedom and spend seven days in Jamaica naked.
Kenrya: That sounds amazing.
Cherí: I want to be sure to make that.
Erica: Yeah, that does.
Cherí: I love every bit of this.
Erica: Yeah. I can-
Cherí: I can't wait. We'll have to come on for another episode to recap what Hedo did.
Erica: Legit. We can do it as a quickie. Just a #21Girlfriends Hedo trip recap.
Kenrya: Yeah, no. So we’re gonna do that!
Cherí: 21 girlfriends and-
Kenrya: I'm serious. We’ll touch base and make that happen.
Erica: Wow. And definitely keep us posted on your events, because I would definitely love to shout them out on our website or Twitter or something like that.
Kenrya: We're learning a lot. I know I am.
Erica: I am so excited for us to publish this episode. So in the last episode we talked about how, from us from the outside looking in, it seems like being in an ethically nonmonogamous relationship, it takes a tremendous amount of communication to make it work and it takes boundary setting and maturity. But what do you think it really takes to be happy in this kind of relationship?
Cherí: I think in order to be happy in this kind relationship, one of the things that I drive home often is, you have to check in with self first. And that means communicating with self first. So when we say this exuberant amount of communication, we think of how we are communicating with others. But for me it starts with how am I communicating with myself? And I think that people oftentimes don't necessarily do that. And that journey towards self identity and also asking oneself, "What do I want?"
Cherí: Because oftentimes you can get into polyamory, and you can lose yourself in trying to fit into these boxes. Because there is this stereotypical norm that polyamory means three people. It means a triad. It means a dyad couple of typically a man and a woman, and we see it often in movies and read it in books, that it's them looking for a single woman and what we call to be a unicorn.
Cherí: Right. And I even see in the community, a lot of women coming in and identifying with that role, I want to be a unicorn, I want to date a couple. Being a bisexual woman from the outside looking in, I could see how that can look exciting and a great opportunity. But on the other hand, there are also cultural implications within the polyamorous community of what being a unicorn means. And oftentimes it means losing oneself and fitting into whatever box or role the di-et couple set up for you.
Cherí: And when you try to deviate from that path of what they were looking for, that's when all of these issues ensue. So I think you have to go in already knowing who you are, what your identity is and what you would like your relationships with other people to look like. And also dealing with going to therapy and dealing with all of those family pathologies and past traumas in order to be able to identify things that you may be seeking out in other people and not even realizing.
Cherí: Because I think that comes out in polyamory oftentimes too, is we're not necessarily looking at why we enjoy these relationships or why we gravitate towards certain people. So dealing with our past and dealing with ourselves I think is prevalent and important when we are talking about entering into polyamory, what that looks like.
Kenrya: I wonder what do you think that people most often get wrong about polyamory? People who are on the outside looking in, the ideas and the stereotypes and the things that we think it is. What do they get wrong?
Cherí: I think people get wrong that polyamory is for white people. It is one of the things that I feel as a community organizer, I find myself combating that idea often.
Kenrya: Why do you think that is?
Cherí: I think historically, Black people, our community, we can sometimes have an issue with freedom and ways that that shows up. And oftentimes we close ourselves off and we think that things are not for us. And I also think that the world looks at media and they see all of these white representations of poly and don't know that Black people are on the forefront of polyamory and creating what these connections look like. We are typically familial people and community-oriented people, tribal people. We come from these backgrounds where close connections with other humans and intimate connections are not foreign to us.
Cherí: So I think it's that media perception of like, "Oh, it's all white people doing it." And then with internally in our community, it is the issue with facing our relationship with freedom and openness.
Erica: Girl you are preaching. So how does being Black color the way you show up as a polyamorous person?
Cherí: Being Black colors, the way that I show up as a polyamorous person is, it's still dangerous in America to be Black, to be a Black woman. So to want to love differently and open yourself up to living and loving in an alternative manner, you also open yourself up to now having more stigmas held against you. Because now you're not simply Black and a woman. You are now a polyamorous woman and oftentimes polyamorous women who are not attached to a husband or a patriarchal figure, are looked at and slut shamed.
Cherí: We oftentimes get into that when we are talking about women who aren't necessarily joining in on this pick me culture of like... We have this poly communities where women come in and they're like, "I only want to date one man. I'm here with my husband," or, "I'm here with my boyfriend and I don't want another man." It's like, okay sis-
Erica: We didn't want you anyway.
Cherí: Come in, hang out for a while, and check in in two years.
Erica: Hmm. Yeah.
Cherí: When you've gone through the ringer and the cycle of committing yourself to this partner who you were saying, "Have your pick." Or they say, "Let's choose together," right? And then it's... They come in, and the data for trying to find one partner who you are compatible with, and now you're trying to find one person who finds both of you attractive, who is compatible with both of you and who loves you equally, whatever that means. I don't think... That's where I believe in equitability versus equal, but I think that's another thing all in itself.
Kenrya: I think that's a pretty actually important thing. It's something that I've struggled with as a person who has gone through therapy and learned to work to move beyond codependency. Because I think that that equality versus equity theme looms large in there when you're trying to figure out how to be in a healthy relationship with other people.
Cherí: Definitely. I think that oftentimes we bump our heads against equality, because we are having all of these comparisons. But there is no other you. You're your own person and a making of all of your own experiences. So someone loving you the same way that they love someone else, would you want that? Because it's like if your boyfriend came in and they gave you this necklace and they said, "Oh, I got you in all of my other partners, this same necklace," would it feel as special as if they had been thoughtful and curated a gift for you? I think it was the same way.
Kenrya: That's a great analogy. How does being... How would you say the polyamory influences the ways that you show up in other parts of your life?
Cherí: I believe polyamory prompted me to look at myself, and also get real with myself in ways that I think that monogamy wouldn't have allowed me to. Because I think there's a certain level of comfortability that comes along with having one partner. And I think that when you're in this monogamous relationship and you're with this one person, that codependency can show up. And the issues tend to cycle, versus if you have multiple partners and you have these multiple perspectives of you, and these multiple views of you, the more you can learn about yourself and you can say, "Ah, maybe I should work on that."
Kenrya: Yeah, larger data set.
Cherí: Right. If five people are telling you you have this wall that is impenetrable, and that's something that I dealt with in my relationships. I'm like, "I have a wall?" And then it's like, "Okay, I need to go talk to someone unbiased." Which for me is a therapist. And I advocate strongly for Black people, especially if you exist in America, to please go to therapy, find yourself a Black therapist. And luckily, one of the things that we do at Black Poly Pride is introduce people to non-monogamous, friendly, queer, friendly mental health professionals.
Kenrya: Wow. Is that via like a... Well, we'll talk a little bit about resources. We'll save that for that.
Erica: Actually that leads me to my next question. What resources do you have for people that want to learn more about ethical nonmonogamy?
Cherí: So I think we're building up our resources, because one of the things about Black Poly Pride that we are learning, is that we don't necessarily want to be another conference. Because poly conferences are out there. We really want to be a pride weekend where if you attended a poly conference, you still find it unnecessary to come to Black Poly Pride because it's where you meet your community. And that community looks different. We want to be the weekend where our queer community is welcome and loved and embraced.
Cherí: And we also have a community of people who are differently able, who we want to make sure that our weekend is for them as well. And so, right now we are branching out and reaching out to all of these different conferences because typically the conferences are regional. So for example, last year we were in Dallas and this year we're going to be in DC. And that's purposeful because we want every community to have access to a community at large.
Cherí: And I feel like what happens in the Black community is we typically learn by word of mouth. And so, that's how we're doing it now is learning through word of mouth and putting together this database. And I think one of the greatest resources online for Black people right now would be Black and Poly, which is a group that I'm an admin in. And I think there are 50,000 members currently. And the admins in that group have been diligent about documenting different people, different literature and different events. So there's this one hub for Black polyamorous people to come to and learn where to find certain things. And also, find those things, but not just things that are assimilated.
Cherí: I think oftentimes we, especially when it comes to literature, we talk about this often about how there are Black polyamorous voices who write books. But every single time we're in poly groups and someone says, "Where is the book that I can learn about polyamory?" They bring up "The Ethical Slut" Or they bring up "More Than Two", and it's like we have Black voices, we want to bring them to the forefront. Which is something that we feel strongly about and we reached out so that we can have access to those people.
Cherí: Last year, we made sure that we had books from Kevin Patterson and Feminista Jones so that we were bringing the Black voices and saying they exist.
Kenrya: It would be great if there are a couple that are must reads, if you would pass them to us and we'll list them in the show notes for this, so that folks can directly access those resources.
Cherí: Awesome. Definitely.
Kenrya: So if there's one thing that our listeners should take away from this episode about polyamory, what would you like it to be?
Cherí: If people could take away one thing about polyamory from this episode, I think it would be that it is... It's not one size fit all. That you have the freedom to come to the conclusion that you want to explore polyamory and that you have the freedom to make it exactly what you want it to be.
Kenrya: Awesome. Okay. Thank you so much for talking to us today.
Cherí: Thank you so much for having me. This was fun.
Kenrya: Where can people find out more information about you and also about Black Poly Pride?
Cherí: People can find out more information about me on Facebook. I'm listed as Cherí Calico Roman. And on Instagram, I am @CalicoEyes215. Same tag on Twitter. And Black Poly Pride on Facebook is Black Poly Pride, and on Instagram @BlackPolyPride.
Kenrya: Awesome. And when is Pride going to be this year?
Cherí: This year it is going to be June 4th through the 7th. I'm like, it's the first day of work, which is very exciting. So we have... We're definitely hitting the ground running so that we can get next year to be as wonderful and transformative as 2019.
Kenrya: That's awesome. Thank you so much for letting us be a part of that. We hope that folks learned a lot and make their way out to Black Poly Pride this year.
Kenrya: That's it for this episode of The Turn On. Thanks so much for joining us.
Cherí: Thank you so much for having me.
Erica: This episode was produced by us, Erica and Kenrya and edited by B'Lystic. The theme song is from Brazy. We want to hear from you all. Send your book recommendations and all the burning sex and related questions you want us to answer to TheTurnOnPodcast@gmail.com. And please subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast app. Follow us on Twitter @TheTurnOnPod and Instagram @TheTurnOnPodcast, and find links to our books, transcripts, guest info, and other fun stuff at TheTurnOnPodcast.com. And remember The Turn On is now a part of the Frolic Podcast Network. You can find more shows you'll love at Frolic.Media/Podcast. Thanks for joining us and we'll see you soon. Hola.
The Turn On
The Turn On is a podcast for Black people who want to get off. To open their minds. To learn. To be part of a community. To show that we love and fuck too, and it doesn't have to be political or scandalous or dirty. Unless we want it to be.