Interview: William Winters


Tiny Interview:
William Winters, organizer in both the progressive and sex-positive worlds


Profile edited by Michael J. Coren

Photo courtesy of Jim Stone
Last update:  October 20, 2019


William Winters has done both progressive political organizing and sex-positive organizing.

What's your favorite bio of yourself?

I'd say: "William Winters works with his feet planted in two worlds. William is a seasoned digital campaign strategist for progressive organizations and causes. He most recently served as Senior Digital Strategist for California-based Courage Campaign, and works as a consultant.

"William is also a leader in the Bay Area’s polyamorous and sex-positive communities. He is the founder of Bonobo Tribe, a sex-positive, consent-focused, power-aware community of nearly 2500 people. Bonobo Tribe facilitates well-informed, emotionally sophisticated, inclusive, and curated conversation and praxis about sex and intimacy. He's also a founder of Express Yourself, a quarterly gathering uniting people of color in celebrations of the erotic. In recent years his work has led to profiles in the San Francisco Chronicle and the New York Times, he has led or participated in numerous panels and workshops on sex and relationships, and is a Somatica-trained sex and relationship coach. He is based in Oakland, CA."


There aren't many social events for non-monogamous people that also facilitate connection and conversation, or that help to develop expertise and praxis around non-monogamy. I think there's still a need for that.


What are some of your own favorite past projects?  Why do you feel great about them?

For three years my wife Anna and I were organizers of the Open Relationship Community Potluck, a monthly gathering that we inherited from its original founders. Under our watch, the event grew from a once per month event to an event that took place four times a month and that served San Francisco, the East Bay, the South Bay, and the Peninsula. I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that it was one of the biggest nonsexual social events for non-monogamous folks in the Bay Area.

I enjoyed the sweet community of regular attendees that grew organically around the events. I liked that the event was both social and oriented towards supporting people in their practice of open relationships. The current landscape of non-monogamy events is focused almost exclusively on the social aspect. And that's important, because I strongly believe that people with non-normative relationship practices need each other. But there aren't many social events that also facilitate connection and conversation, or that help to develop expertise and praxis around non-monogamy. I think there's still a need for that.

What’s a specific project that you’re excited about *right now*?  (It can be yours, or someone else’s.)

I'm most excited about Bonobo Tribe right now. For years, it was the weirdly intense hobby that I did on top of my career as an activist. As it grew, it became ever harder to give any of my passions the energy and time they fully deserved. 

As I've brought on a business partner and shifted the balance of my work, we've been able to make advances that recognize and reinforce the idea that Bonobo Tribe is a community and not simply a series of parties. We've instituted a new consent and accountability policy that's rooted in the ideals of transformative justice. We've developed an orientation that we're now asking that all our members go through in order to attend our explicitly sexual events. And we're able to plan more programming to both better serve Bonobo Tribe members and share elements of our culture, values, and praxis with the wider public. And we hope to innovate inclusive approaches to funding this work and making sure that it's properly resourced.

What is a cultural phenomenon, experiment, or moment that has inspired you in the past?

Generally speaking, the emergence of the Movement for Black Lives has been wildly inspiring. I've been thinking a lot about citizenship and democratic participation. The creative, strategic work of young Black folks to alert the rest of the country to what Black folks have known to be true for generations and to force communities across the country to confront the blood cost of the criminal justice system is clearly among this generation's most powerful examples of these concepts. As a Louisiana native, getting to witness the community's response to Alton Sterling's 2017 murder was especially inspiring. I'm not sure that kind of ground-level organizing, that degree of aggressive response, would have been possible ten years ago.

What's a current cultural edge you're excited to see people pushing?

There are a few cultural edges I'm excited about. The first is the growing acceptance of psychedelics in America. The good work to decriminalize psychedelics in municipalities like Oakland and Chicago is especially cool.

Obviously, I'm very interested in the ways that more people are breaking free from the monogamy's cultural hegemony and designing the relationship practices that work for them instead of settling for the relationship practices that are prescribed to them. Relatedly, I'm also interested in the ways that sexual practices that used to be confined to dungeons are making their way into Middle American bedrooms.

Finally, I'm interested in the ways that America is confronting its history with respect to race and class, which may be the edgiest conversation of them all. The popular cultural conversation started with the success of books like Isabel Wilkerson's brilliant The Warmth of Other Suns, continuing through Ta-Nehisi Coates' landmark article "The Case For Reparations," and continues now through the NYT's 1619 Project. We saw it in New Orleans and other Southern cities, where statues honoring the traitors of the Confederacy are coming down. And we see it in the activism of the Movement for Black Lives and other identity-based movements for social justice.

What’s your biggest, most out-there dream of a better world?

Ending racism? Yeah. That.

What's a relatively small, highly achievable dream of a better world that you sometimes think about but haven't done yet?

My business partner had the brilliant idea of pooling the resources of sex positive communities to create an external body to investigate allegations of sexual misconduct and make recommendations to the organizers of those communities based on their findings. It's an interesting idea that we haven't made much progress in advancing.

If you could put out a PSA to the entire world asking for help with one thing, what would you ask for?  

I would love to take Bonobo Tribe's forums off of Facebook, which is horrible, and onto a user-friendly, scalable platform. Halp?

What's your favorite thing about The New Modality? 

I love that The New Modality is seeking to document and interrogate (counter)culture creation at the (under)ground level. 

What are your favorite links that will help our audience learn about you, your life, your work, and your values?  

The Bonobo Tribe Consent Policy. Also, my poly marriage was profiled in this 2015 SFGate article.


Transparency Notes

This profile was edited by Michael J. Coren. Michael is a journalist focused on business, technology, and science — especially climate science — living in San Francisco. More about him at his NewMo profile