Here I am already looking tired on my first flight but still decked out in purple for Spirit Day and feeling trepidatious:
I felt trepidatious, because I was so damn worked up about being in a space filled with other LGBTQ people and possibly not being accepted and heard. I have had a negative history with finding acceptance not only from outside the LGBTQ community but also from within it. We all draw protective boundaries with definitions around how we identify ourselves to protect ourselves in a world that sometimes strikes out at those identities, straight or not.
Male gamers strike out with sexist violence against female gamers who are perceived to be encroaching upon a domain to which they feel entitled, pro-choice activists declare pro-lifers ignorant and lacking in compassion, and some individuals within the LGBTQ community exclude others' claims to LGBTQ identities based on definitions of their own identities that the existence of such people might threaten. I ran into just such an exclusionary reaction as recently as last week when I wrote a post for National Coming Out Day, and that reaction had me nervous. I have no doubt about my right to claim my identity within such a space, but it's hard to confront resistance. It's heartbreaking.
It turns out that I need not have worried.
On Friday, I spoke in a line-up that had me literally shaking in my shoes. I was followed by Terésa Dowell-Vest (the writer, producer, and director of "Shirts vs Skins" fame), Toni Rocca and Matt Conn and Kayce Brown (each of whom are a part of GaymerConnect and created the first inclusive gaming conference), and Shawn Hollenbach (a comedian and actor who does social media for Logo TV).
Seriously, guys. Look at them. I was with them. No one kicked me out of the line-up! Not that they would have kicked me out, but as a person who always feels like someone is going to point a finger and declare She is not one of us and She does not belong, it felt monumental to look down that line of faces and know that my name was listed in the agenda right along with theirs.
I really don't know what to tell you about about it all, because a lot of what was remarkable for for me is not remarkable for most.
I spent an entire weekend feeling normal, because I was in a room where diversity along lines of gender and sexuality was normalized. Sure, I was still anxious and looking for a ficus to hide behind, because that's how I am in new social situations, but I was considered normal in a room full of others like me. For me, there are closets everywhere — I jump in and out of them like a nervous vole — but there were no closets for me at Salon LGBTQ. I sat at tables and stood in lines and went for walks with groups entirely made up of people who spoke fairly openly about their experiences and asked me about mine.
Normal feels incredible.
I didn't intend to colour this write-up with any kind of sadness, because the conference was such a positive boon for me, but I can't express why it was so important without touching on the courage I had to activate to get there and stand up in front of those people.
I was incredibly honoured and humbled to be at this first conference of its kind in North America with such a high calibre of speakers and attendees from whom to learn more about social media and its relationship to marketing, writing, politics, etc. When I say "honoured and humbled", it sounds like I am speaking with false sincerity, but I am not. For the first time in my life, I was in an LGBTQ space that made me feel included and valued, and there is no way for me to fully explain the holes that this kind of connection filled for me. I will try, though: I felt I could be both my internal self and my external self concomitantly, coherent in a public space, when I doubted that I ever would be able to experience that. Any battles I fought at Salon LGBTQ were mine alone, and the distraction of disconnection fell away. That's a rather poetic way to talk about a conference, but there it is.
Thank you Deb Rox and Polly Pagenhart and everyone else who created the inaugural Salon LGBTQ to gather us all together in Atlanta. I will be there again if it continues, even if it takes me 44 hours of travel time again, and I can't wait to see what it grows and creates not only for the LGBTQ community but also for the larger world of social media and beyond.
If you are interested in the talk I gave at Salon LGBTQ, you can check out its accompanying presentation here: A New Era: Storytelling While LGBTQ.