- Background/BiNet Strategy - BiNet USA made TBC our main conference commitment of the year. Colleen Harrington (a BiNet board member) was the head organizer. Financially, we sponsored both the "Intersex Awareness Day" Reception AND a general sponsorship (which is a bit challenging as we have approximately $100 in the bank; donations are most appreciated). We have a table in the vendor space, facilitated some workshops, ran a sticker campaign, and put a BiNet USA flyer in everyone's registration packet.
We chose this conference as our biggest effort, partially because of location (3 of the 4 board members are in central new England) and partially because of the opportunity to reach new people. With the PFLAG, Genderqueer, Trans, and Intersex communities present, there are many faces not currently involved with BiNet.
- Friday night - the conference ran from Friday night until Sunday afternoon. My friend (and fellow board member) Margaret flew into my local airport (she's the remote board member) and we drove down together, during which time we were able to firm up our strategies and catch up on life.
The hotel (a Hilton, directly across the street from the DCU Center, a large auditorium/conference centre where the event was held) was brand new. It was open only 2 weeks earlier. In some ways, this was a real treat - no stinking old rooms, new towels/sheets/coffee makers. On the other hand, the wired Ethernet drops did not work, there was a few kinks left to worked out with the staff, and the typical "all about the hotel" books weren't back from the printers. The staff was wonderful, upbeat, helpful, and welcoming.
Registration began around 6 or 6:30pm. TBC/PFLAG had an amazing 450 pre-registered attendees!!!! For those of you don't who attend these things, that's 3 to 4 times the size we typically see. Given the number of walk ins, I'm pretty sure they hit 500 by the end of the weekend.
- History - The registration packets contained loads of inserts, information, bios, etc. it also included a history of TBC. They nicely credited BiNet USA as the group that started the conference. I, however, cringed when I saw that. As a member of the sextet back then (the sextet was the name of the national organizers who ran BiNet) and the regional coordinator liaison, my recollection was different.
Although it did grow out of our network, we, at national level, did little to nothing. It was those CT/NJ/NY folks who made it happen. Alice, Tom, Robin, and the entire Tri-State group. Those was the parents of this wonderful conference, the folks who birthed it, grew it, and pulled in the trans & intersex communities. I would hate to take credit for other folks' work. It was the honour of meeting and working with such amazing regional coordinators that made my last stint with BiNet a joy. I miss that aspect terribly.
- Telling Stories - there were two themes over the weekend:
- Spirituality - how anti gay religious rhetoric can hurt our psyche, integrating spirituality into sexuality, working with faith groups were but a few of the workshops
- Telling Our Stories. Countering the anti gay religious crap and homo/biphobia in general is best done by telling people your story. Someone early shared a quote - "it's impossible to hate someone who's story you know". You'll see loads of mentions of stories told over the weekend (as much as can be shared in a confidential setting, of course).
- Intersex Awareness - As Friday was Intersex Awareness Day, Esther Morris Leidolf was brought in to do the opening plenary/discussion. A witty, passionate presenter (side note - she wrote the "Missing Vagina Monologues", which she performed for us), Esther brought us through the details of her story. Intersex workshops/talks can be very difficult to do because of the complexity surrounding the subject. There are many, many types of the intersex condition . . . they fall under 16-18 categories; none of which are easy to describe as their symptoms go way beyond the genitals. Esther's condition, for example, also includes a risk of deafness and back problems.
Rather than attempt to educate us all one all aspects of the Intersex experience, she simply told us her story - how the doctors convinced her mom to get her "fixed", the lack of information, repeated educations of doctors, the scar tissue, the dilators, the pain. It was funny, sad, and touching. I doubt there was anyone in the room who was not moved.
- Reception - following Esther's talk, BiNet and PFLAG's NorthEast Regional director hosted an open reception with fruit, cheese, and a cash bar.
- end of night - Some folks ended the night in the hot tub, but I was boring (as I was every night) and went up to my room and watched a Wanda Sikes stand up show on HBO. It may have been the setting, but I swear, she was doing a bisexual routine - talking about masturbation and porn, and why same sex marriage is not a threat . . . and the demands she puts on her (non-gender specific) partner.
- Vendor Space - vendor set up was at 7 freaking AM. BiNet had decided to re-invent the vendor table concept. As everyone already had one of our pamphlets, we decided to get rid of our table (the BRC was glad to have it) and bring in a bunch of comfy chairs. We labelled it "the BiNet Crash space" and invited anyone to come sit down, chat, rest, whatever. We also provided free stickers (nothing fancy, just rectangular ones you can print out) with a variety of sayings - "I'm Bisexual and I have parents. Any questions?", "Welcome PFLAG", "I'm a proud parent of a bisexual" . . . that sort of thing.
The artistic members in our group (Margaret and Brian) made some beautiful advertisements/posters for our space. We draped blue, lavender, and pink blankets over the soft chairs (partially to hide their wear and tear). Our space was perfectly located (across from the main entrance to the ballroom) AND twice as large as the other spaces. I'm not saying this had anything to do with the fact that BiNet's current president was in charge of the vendor space, but it helped.
The vendor space is typically my favourite part of a conference. It's where I get to make connections with new people, one on one. It's where I can find out about new books, stickers, videos, groups. There were several new vendors this time. The Tiffany Club was there for the first time. I was so thrilled to see them, that I went over to welcome them personally (like I had to do with anything!) and was rewarded with a free yoyo, snickers, and bit-o-honey (I didn't think they made those any more).
As we were in MA, the marriage equality folks had a booth. And there was someone selling videos of the first day marriage was legal. Ron Suresha Jackson brought his books, including "Bi Guys", hot off the presses.
The straight spouse network was there. I met an amazing woman who is still with her gay husband, something like 15 years after he came out as gay. We discussed how we might work together moving forward (btw, if you don't know the straight spouse network, they are a wonderful group who helps the straight spouses deal as their partner comes out.)
Our space was next to the BRC's, so I had lots of time to speak with the regulars: Wayne Bryant, Linda Blair, Robyn Ochs were present. (side note - on the way home, Margaret and I were discussing the Boston Bi community. Boston feels like the Bi San Francisco. Can you imagine - a place with 4 or 5 unique, thriving bi groups, lead by many of the pre-eminent authors on bi topics? Folks in the forefront of the marriage movement. Is it any wonder MA was the first place to allow same sex marriage? We have leaders like Linda and Robyn who made it happen... BISEXUAL leaders.)
There were about a dozen different PFLAG chapters with tables. And the usual jewellery, shirts, art, and book folks. Since the vendor's space was only open on Saturday, the day was over before I could properly shop. I ended up with only a rainbow dog mouse pad. Fortunately, since the internet was there, I was able to order 3 books I would have otherwise bought onsite after hours. I'm anxiously awaiting "Bears on Bears" and "She's not There". Amazon says I'll have them in 2 days!
- Opening Plenary - Jennifer Finney Boylan (author of "She's Not There") spoke of her life - becoming a woman, life with her partner. An excellent presenter (as faculty folks often are), she had me laughing loudly one moment and tears flowing the next. Book geek note I was a stunned to hear one of my more cherished authors, Richard Russo, is a friend of hers. He was actually there on "the day" when she had her surgery. when she read his intro in the book . . . she cried, I cried.
At the plenary, we also got our first glimpse at the folks who made this weekend happen. Colleen (BiNet board member) did the general introductions. Emily . . . sweet Emily. introduced Jenny. Emily is this soft spoken, tall, gentle sweet spirit. She's one of those who . . . merely being in her presence, you feel the tensions go away. She spoke sincerely about reading Jenny's book, feeling validated through the words, and giving a copy to many of her family members as she came out. Do you know how sometimes conference speakers can be a little too polished? Professional speakers who know every word that will come out of their mouth - every pause is planned and timed. Not Emily. She spoke well, from the heart. She certainly melted mine.
- Saturday workshops - there were 7 - 8 workshops in every slot (4 slots on Saturday).
- Tom Limoncelli (recent winner of the Brenda Howard award for bi activism) showed folks how to maximize the power of their web site and how to better facilitate a group. The fabulous Robyn Ochs facilitated a "Bi 101" workshop. Valerie White facilitated her ever popular "Poly 101" workshop. Our dear president showed a movie about Harry Hay (founder of the Matachine Society and partner to Grandpa Walton, you know, of the Walton's TV show?) . Ms Emily (see opening plenary) led a panel discussion on transcending boundaries in the MTF spectrum.
- Penelope Williams - a one woman firehouse who appears to almost single handedly keep the Bi People of Color and Bi Youth groups thriving and productive, Penelope ran two bi/queer people of color gatherings over the course of two days.
- Lani Ka-ahumanu andBobbi Keppel (Google her . . . there's a million places that speak of her life and work including "Affirmative Psychotherapy with Older Bisexual Women and Men" ) revived the infamous "Safer Sex Sluts" safe sex discussion, morphing it into one that accounts for changes as we age (the over 50 crowd is perhaps the fastest growing HIV infection demographic). If you've never seen Lani discuss safe sex - you've never seen a safe sex discussion. We all put on gloves with lube and shook hands. Someone was wrapped in saran wrap. We handled the female condom and various dildos. We watched what happens when you rub baby oil on a blown up condom.
- Perhaps my favorite workshop was when Ron Suresha Jackson, Wayne Bryant and the deliciously comedic Alan Hamilton read excerpts from "Bi Men" and "Bi Guys." All men I've known for years (some of whom I've seen naked at Bi Camp), I and the other attendees were given a new glimpse into their spirits as two of them read their written words from the books (Alan filled in for Pete Chvany, who was unable to come due to a medical issue). I think I may have fallen in love 3 times over during this workshop. It ended when Ron read from "Bi Guys". "Bi Guys," if you don't know, is a kind of bi literotica. Always literary in composition, yet pretty hot too. The story he read us never did have sex included, yet many of us were squirming in our seats any way.
My Vermont friends (long time conference attendees), Ann and Sadelle, coordinated "a closet for two" . . .Brett Genny Beemyn has relocated to our neck of the woods (long term bi folks certainly will recall this name as an author of many books including "Bisexual Men in Culture and Society" and "Bisexuality in the Lives of Men: Facts and Fictions"). Zir workshop was about being trans on campus.
There were probably 40 other workshops on a variety of topics. See TBC"Workshops" page for details. I've only mentioned the few I knew something about.
- Second plenary - The mid day lunch (food included in the cost of the conference) had 2 plenary speakers. Lani Ka'ahumanu. Yes, THE Lani Ka'ahumanu of "Bi any other name" spoke about her history. Being married, coming out as lesbian, coming out as bi. daughter coming out as bi. partnering with a lesbian, who later transitioned to male. Lani's story is the Transcending Boundaries story. She's a PFLAG mom and a bi woman. She encompasses is all.
She also spoke about Denise Penn (BiNet USA's last president) and her experiences being a regional chapter lead in PFLAG after her daughter came out; the discomfort she felt in her group when they were discussing possibly adding gay leadership. They had assumed she was straight. When she told them she was bi, there was an awkward silence, then they continued on like she hadn't said anything. She ended with a public challenge to the head of PFLAG that we work closer together to make sure parents of bisexuals had a place at PFLAG.
Lani may not have made a lot of PFLAG friends during the plenary, but she sure made me proud.
The second speaker was the president of PFLAG. He spoke about his daughter coming out. The initial fears they had - most of which were silly. The final fear - that there were people out there who want to hurt his kid - has drove him to where he is now. He spoke to being forced to step outside his comfort zone - until he develops a new comfort zone. I think that's when I "got it".. that's what some of the PFLAG folks were doing this weekend.
Many PFLAG parents are stretching their comfort zone merely to be out and supportive for their lesbian daughter. Its a whole new world to interact with the gender queer and s&m, poly bi folk. It's my hope some comfort zone expended over the weekend.
- Evening - folks did dinner on their own (Margaret, Brian, and I drove until we were lost, then drove a couple more miles, before selecting a random restaurant, where I had Wachusett Blueberry Ale for the first time. I'd definitely recommend it). After dinner, there were two evening options:
- a costume party with a "house music" DJ
- a acoustic, coffee house music
I actually (I'm about to out myself as a total dud, nerd) opted for option 3 - watching Men in Black on the hotel TV and crashing early. Perhaps attendees with a (night) life can weigh in on these two events
- We gained an hour of sleep overnight, so those late night revelers were able to get some sleep. The "early risers" had the option of a Sunday service or yoga at 8am new time (9 am old time). Full workshops began at 9am.
Most folks appear to have left by Sunday morning. I would say somewhere between 150-200 folks were around. Without the vendor space, we were given a more intimate conference that second day. there were three main workshop slots, with a "create your own" for the true die hards at the very end.
- workshops - There appeared to be some confusion with the time change change. the people leading the Sunday service and one of the early workshops (queer media matters) were missing. Yet in both cases, a new workshop grew out of the participants.
- DIY workshop - Our first workshop (the media matters one) was missing our facilitator
(which made no sense because I KNOW he was excited about this one; I'm hoping he's ok). We chatted some amongst ourselves. We had just started discussing the debate around kids transitioning before they became legal adults - whether it's ok at all . . . or just hair cuts/clothes . . . hormones . . . or surgery, when "C" - a transboy I had met on Friday, joined us. I knew he was very honest, so I asked him his thoughts on the topic. He shared much of his life. it was quite sad, and quite powerful
I did feel responsible to get us discussing the topic we had come together for, so I steered us back to films that have meant the most to us as bi/trans/intersex folk. Many of the films that were brought up were not even queer film. For example, GI Jane meant a lot to "C".
- genderqueers - I also attended the genderqueer workshop. I would like to understand the large variety in the genderqueer world. And why some prefer that to transgender. Side note - you ever know someone for a long time, even peripherally? then hear their story? That happened to me in this workshop. there's a couple I've seen at workshops for a long time, had a nice impression of them as a very sweet couple, but no time to establish a deep connection. Anyway, they told their story in this workshop and it just blew my mind. That moment cemented the belief that you can't hate anyone' who's story you know. Not that I ever had any ill feelings at all towards them, but I cherish the ability to say I've met these two, now that I've heard their stories.
One other presenter at the genderqueer workshop was a FTM trans man in college who has received some ill will from the other trans men at school because he is not "man enough". Maybe doesn't work on cars or follow a football team. Hence his gender queer identity. Hearing him speak, I not only understood the need for the genderqueer subgroup, but I also made better sense of transexuality.
I have never been a femme-y girl, but I never wanted a penis (ok, sometimes, . . . but not really very seriously). So, I never quite understood why someone would want to take it to the next level and permanently change themselves. I was supportive, of course, but deep inside, I couldn't fully fathom it. Then to hear this beautiful man talk about needing the right body, but not some of the other boy-ish traits I sought out - I got it!
It's not about trying to become a traditional man in every way . . . it's about getting the body your insides feel it needs. The gender role crap is a separate issue. It's like having a missing arm and being given the opportunity to put one back! Who wouldn't do that? Yes, there are butch men and femme men, so of course there would be butch FTM's and femme FTM's.
- peer pressure at the bottom of the "others" - yes, in the trans community - like in the bi community . . . there's much peer pressure to confirm. Jenny spoke in the introductory plenary about how if you put to gay men or lesbians in a room together, you get a nice discussion, but if you put two trans folks in a room together, you get an argument. That line resonated with me. I sometimes feel like this happens in bi space
(I probably shouldn't say that, given it's such a downer) - some poly folk seem to think monogamous folk are unenlightened.. some monogamous folk feel the poly folk play into the negative bi stereotypes and make them "look bad". . . and so on and so on . . . y'all know the difficulties. It was comforting (that might not be the right word) to know other groups have the same problems.
I second example of the lack of consensus was when the topic of gender neutral pronouns came up. Much debate went into how the presenter should refer to folks in the audience. Should we ever use pronouns unless we ask the person what they prefer? should we use names only - no pronouns? "they" as a singular? or one of the three gender neutral variants that have been adopted by several subgroups? Most folks had "the answer" yet few - if any - agreed one the same answer
- lunch - realizing there was only 30 minutes for lunch and no nearby fast food offerings, Brian and I decided to get pizza brought in. he skipped the genderqueer workshop in order to acquire food. He bought two large pizzas (one vegetarian, of course . . . this WAS a queer folk setting ,after all!) and set them up outside the gender queer workshop. BiNet made more allies from their little $30 investment than perhaps anything else. next time I think we'd get 6 or so pizzas.
- Other workshops - Linda Blair and Robyn Ochs spoke about their efforts on Marriage equality and the current state of marriage in MA and beyond. Julie and Luigi coordinated their ever popular "getting the sex you want" workshop. Lani and Wayne held a workshop discussing the history of the bi movement.
- Finally, the brilliant, gorgeous, vibrantly dynamic researcher Dawn Commeau presented some of her early work on Bi women. She has interviewed 40 bisexual women in two main locations (Boston and Atlanta) about their lives, attachment to community, desires, current relationships. Unlike most surveys (internet based and anonymous), she came to our homes or common meeting places. Face to face, she had folks describe their sexual encounter time line, health issues, desire to be with other bisexuals. Intimate and telling, I'm anxiously awaiting the final product.
- One workshop I wanted to attend, but did not was the working class identity and sexual identity. I grew up poor. Had I not gone to college, I would have a very different life now. I certainly don't think I'd be running BiNet.
- But even more than my personal story, I've been struggling with the "bisexual" label. At conferences, there's lots of talk regarding bisexuality being a transphobic word. If bi means two, it erases the full spectrum of gender expression and appearance. Words like queer, polysexual, pansexual, omnisexual, asexual, sexual, and "other" are offered as alternatives.
I take these criticisms to heart. I do love my trans and genderqueer friends (heck, I find folks that blur the lines sexier than more stereotypical gender expression!). As someone in a leader role of a "bi" labelled group, I feel accountable. I hear kids might not join us because we don't use the term "queer", yet I know folks over 50 who hate that word. We need both groups. Without the young generation, BiNet will die off (still debating if that's a bad thing) but I can't go after them if it means turning my backs on the folks who made this community happen.
I spent much of the weekend surveying folks on the use of our label/title. if we need to change and if so, to what?
(you may be wondering what this has to do with working class . . . I'm getting there). It hit me when looking at the working class title - the far majority of the folks discussing the evil bi label are college educated, white, and folks who like to discuss the utopian version of the world. My people, right?
But, does their opinion speak for all the bisexuals in the world? Would a rural mill worker share the same concerns? or a person at a soup line? Would a kid growing up in central Maine (as I had done) today know how to find us if we did not use the bisexual term? It took me 19 years to find a book on bisexuality and a community. How long would it have taken had everything been listed under polysexual? or pansexual?
The fact is -I'm not a kid growing up today in Maine . . . or a mill worker. So I don't have those answers . . . but neither do the college professors and authors who often dominate the discussion. I'm left feeling desperate to reach out to our larger population of find the answers. Stay tuned for an upcoming email that discusses how we plan to do this.
- closing plenary - the Closing plenary speaker, Matt Kailey, spoke about accidental activism. Unfortunately, I missed this, as I stayed behind in my previous workshop. Perhaps someone else can comment on this.
- "fame" - the one thing I love about our bi community is how small we are. My idols from college - the Lani's and Lorraine's - are available & huggable & email-able. If you told me ten years ago they'd speak to me, I'd say you were lying. On the other hand, few people know them.. or me, Robyn, Wayne, Linda, Luigi, Margaret, Ron, etc. For as big as all these people are, they're invisible to most folk.
So to get back to my pre-conference jitters . . . I had "high fame" moment, when a librarian who was looking for bi information happened to join our little listserv for a while. Not a bisexual, but she knew BiNet USA and me! so cool! I started thinking I should wear sunglasses and get ready to sign autographs.
Cut to Sunday, when someone introduces me to an attendee. I get up to shake her hand. and realize we had spoken for 15 or so minutes the day before. I reminded he that we've met and she apologized for not remembering. So much for all my charm and wit ;-)
The first night at any queer conference is pretty typical. There are folks who are regularly in touch electronically but only see each other at conferences. Perhaps it's because I've always lived in rural areas, but some of the people I cherish most I might only see once a year. The person I consider my mentor who I would fight to the death for . . . I hadn't seen her in 10 years! In that group, much bear hugging, kissing, and smiles abound.
Then there's folks who work together, are on the same lists, have the name recognition, and MAY have worked on an action or an email thread. Those folks will pass each other, glance at the badge. You can see the recognition - the faces light up. They introduce each other.. sometimes remind the other how they know each other. There's then either hand waving, hand shaking, some hugs. For example, I ran into Lawrence Nelson at our reception. Lawrence was Brenda Howard's partner. Brenda, for those who don't know, was a huge GLBT activists . . . a bi woman who help start the first pride parade in NYC, among many other things. She died 15-16 months ago. Lawrence and I have rarely worked together, but I've always had a soft place in my heart for him.. perhaps because I have a male partner myself, who has put up with a lot as I try to change the world. We talked for hours that first night, just getting to know each other better.
The third group are often first time attendees, not necessarily plugged in to any clique. They often have wide eyes, seems slightly timid. Not sure if - once again, they will be considered not worthy of this new group. At TBC, most of us are there because we've been rejected by some other group. Not straight, not gay, not perfectly male, perfectly female. Not mainstream.
So to go to a new space where you don't know many (if any) people and shout "I'm here!" . . . It can be a bit intimidating. These are the folks I try hardest to reach. It wasn't that many years ago when I was in their spot (a side note - in fact, to this day, I always wake up with a sense of dread on conference day - will people know who I am? are there folks that will glare/hate me? will anyone talk to me? will I end up in a corner? it never happens . . . or at least hasn't a long time, but I still have that panic every time I go).
I walked the perimeter of our reception space for the early part of the reception - looking for folks who looked alone. I'd smile, telling them "welcome", and introduced myself. I got some strange looks, but also some grateful ones. Of course, I forgot to wear in my BiNet name tag/shirt, so I probably seemed like some crazy person off the street who thought she was the mayor of the Hilton ;-)</li>
****** Saturday ********
I do hope ya'll will consider attending the next TBC. Attendees, please feel free to fill in any extra data
And, to those of you who actually finished reading this god(dess) love ya!