This past weekend was the Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Trans, Ally College Conference, affectionately called MBLGTACC (mmmble-tack). It took place in Madison, Wisconsin, the home of my fabulous friend-drag-troupe the MadKings and made new friends with a troupe called DragKing Rebellion. Both are genderfuckingly fabulous. This conference holds a special place for me because of the rarity of a large, open queer space in the Midwest, particularly one that is youth focused. I was also excited to get to hang out with friends made last year as well as my dear pals Helen Boyd, Rachel, and Kate Bornstein.
I presented two workshops, one of which I ranted about Katy Perry and had to doddle a bird to calm down. haha, it was ridiculous. Good groups this year, and the workshops were shockingly packed. It was nuts and totally unexpected. Also, this year I performed in the hosted drag show which was super fun. The stage was carpeted, so I had to do soft-shoe instead of tap. Oh well. My friend Lisa got some awesome pics of the show. My flapper number was particularly popular, again unexpected because I was the only solo performer (all else were large, fantastic troupes). One person even gave me a pile of change, which traditionally in drag is considered an insult, but I saw their rushed, smiling face and knew it was actually a compliment. Later the person told me that they loved the number but had no singles and wanted to show support the only way they could. Its kinda one of my favorite things ever now, very touching. This was also the first show I have ever performed in where I was being rated by a panel of judges. It was an American Idol skit involving 5 audience members. One judge made a joke saying “I though you deserved the change, because you have totally changed my sexuality.” It was hilarious. I think I don’t fully realize how genderfucked I look when I perform, because I never expect the reactions I get. I think its that classic tale of never knowing exactly how you look to others.
[image: JAC – in a black and white fringe flapper dress, pink hair, lipstick and blue eye make up, white feather boa, and sequined head band. Smiling with arm outstretched singing to the audience.]
Also, all us performers had to throw in another number because one group didn’t come. I had no extra costumes, and instead of throwing something together from other people’s clothes, I decided to make a bit out of it and go in my skivvies. Also got some really bad rug burn and bruises since I was rolling around and dancing practically naked. All part of the job. :)
[image: JAC on stage in black binder and underwear. His arms are up in front of him in clenched fists with a hopeful look on his face]
My scantily clad performance was not just a cry for 1500 peoples’ attention. It was also a message. I have a habit of creating numbers with messages that no one would catch on to except me. As a performer I feel that sometimes it is important to have your own meaning to things, even if no one else knows what it is.
Throughout the conference there was a rising tension about the accessibility and inclusion of the conference of people of color, trans folk, and people with disabilities. Being friends with several organizers I was able to hear the sides of the organizers but since I myself was not an organizer, I was able to also hear that of the general conference assembly. I an only speak for myself from where my communities are. As a trans person I didn’t feel there was an issue for me. I will admit I am more flexible than some, but I am constantly on the look out for problematic things, so the face that I didn’t notice something leads me to believe that issues of trans accessibility were small. Plus, of all the people I talked to, which was a lot, I heard no complaints about trans stuff. When I learned it was about something so simple as bathroom signs not marking ALL bathrooms as all-gender, I got a little irritated. All bathrooms were originally labeled all-gender but the building staff removed the signs leaving a mens, womens, and unisex bathrooms. When I saw that there was a unisex bathroom I was happy about it. I didn’t care if it was titled unisex or had a new sign on it saying all-gender. Where are these people coming from where unisex isn’t good enough for them? I was just grateful to have the bathroom, and even one that wasn’t a “family” bathroom. Unisex vs. all-gender, pish posh. And its not like I don’t think I deserve something specific, as you all probably have learned by now I am heavy about what my community deserves. I just think that picking shit apart to the nth degree creates more problems that it solves. There is a difference between calling it out privilege and inaccessibility and being a pretentious and demanding. Often times I feel the people complaining speak for the entire community without asking us. Or aren’t even IN the community. So, I performed in my underwear to show I am trans and I care about this space, that no one has the right to speak for me, and that I feel safe at MBLGTACC even if it isn’t perfect yet.
EDIT 2.24.10: Thanks to a buddy of mine, I have been alerted to something I should have mentioned. Because I was either presenting or working the majority of the conference, there was a lot of things I did not see. One of the issues raised was pronouns and language, indeed probably the most common thing we deal with. More is included in comments below, I encourage you to read them. I think it further reiterates the fact that so many people are caught up in the illusion of-not just equality, but of education. Knowing about your own identity does not mean you understand that of others, which includes language and pronouns or how to just not be a shithead.
We are forever transitioning in our community. Accessibility is a major issue that must continue to have our full attention. One of the strategies for the planning committee for accessibility is to have no closed sessions next year in a move to include everyone. I agree that we need to communicate with each other, foster coalitions, and educate ourselves and each other. That doesn’t mean we each have the right to know everything about everyone all the time. There is this illusion that in order to be equal we all have to be the same, that everyone can’t be included unless we are all in the same place with the same information. The same rights and access is not equal to the same EVERYTHING. As a trans person and a person with disabilities, I think this is bullshit. I look forward to having some private community space. I want a safe space where people aren’t going to assume something about me, or ask a shitty question. I want to talk about what I am dealing with where I know everyone gets it. It’s not ok for people to come into community spaces just because they think our specific issues are interesting. Take an educational workshop if you want to learn something. “Learning” is about education, not entertainment and fascination. Its not always everyone’s business what a community is dealing with. I do not take it personally if a space is not for me, I feel others should not either. If you don’t like it, make your own fucking space. Its what we had to do. I can not label people by sight, and I won’t try, however I have been in spaces where I know people do not belong there. Even when prompted that it was a closed space they still stay, only later to openly identify themselves as someone from outside the community. WTF? Who do you think you are? You think its easy for people of color to carve out a space in a predominantly white movement with white language and white theories? You think its easy for trans people to fit in when all anyone is talking about is gay this and gay that, wrong pronouns flying, getting asked about their bodies, or being kicked out of their communities because they are who they are? I don’t need anyone to feel sorry for me because my body is different, I don’t need anyone analyzing why I am not “healthy” like them. If you are able bodied, I don’t want to tell you anything about my situation and I shouldn’t have to. I think the result of having no closed spaces will not be that people will learn more, it will be that people, myself excluded, will just stop talking.
One thing I think is easy to forget in the confusion, stress, and hub-bub of big community spaces, both open and closed, is that in the end we are all in this together. What we need to do is make it the best for all of us in this greater house of queer, even if that means some rooms of the house are private. No one would expect to be allowed in the bathroom with you while you’re on the toilet. Why is that recognizable privacy but a closed session for queers of color is not? Or for trans-folk? Or disabled people? I think that people need to stop looking outside themselves and complaining, pull their heads out of their asses and and educate themselves for real. We can not get caught up in the fantasy of a magic utopia where we are all the same, because we are not. We do not all have the same rights, the same access. We can not pull through this together if we don’t respect each other, and that includes respecting each other’s right to privacy and space.
15 thoughts on “MBLGTACC and Inclusion vs. Illusion”
at the drag show, i felt as though i watched your carpet burns happen in slow motion. my own knees stung as you hit the stage, but you had an AMAZING performance and recovered quite nicely! i didn’t even see you flinch as you got up.
i really appreciate your thoughts on this weekend. i did not have a chance to talk with very many individuals concerning the problems with the conference, outside of the 5 of us from my school. i agree with you on the fact that no matter what, not everyone will be entirely pleased with all decisions; that’s just how it is in all aspects of life.
saturday afternoon i accidentally wound up in a closed workshop because i did not notice that the session i was looking for had been moved.
when i realized my mistake, i apologized and excused myself.
prior to me leaving, the person in front of me was asked to leave the inner circle of chairs, but then later invited back in by someone else, even before the session began. when this person spoke up about what had happened, tension buzzed in the room. i wasn’t exactly sure why the individual was being moved around so much, but i could tell there was an uneasiness among the group when this happened.
other than the obvious uneasiness after problems were addressed by QPOC, this was the only time i witnessed a problem first-hand, although i heard about many more issues throughout the weekend.
we often take things for granted, and forget about our privilege, no matter how great or small it may be. thank you so much for writing about this!
lol i actually didn’t even notice the rug burn until after the number was over!
I was very impressed by your performances, especially paired together in one evening. I think I told you on Saturday night that I’d been wanting to see public binders for a long time now. Thank you for that awesome improvised costume; you feeling safe made me feel safe.
I’m interested to hear that your radar did not go off. Speaking as a trans person, I felt like I had a knife in my gut all weekend. Some things I hold the organizers accountable for, like not properly vetting and/or training presenters to make sure they knew how to facilitate group discussions, particularly at a conference that was supposed to explicitly challenge people’s privilege. Of course, it’s not their fault that cis, white, able-bodied and/or *ahem* college-educated queers have that privilege to begin with. I think the gaps at the conference were a reflection of the work everyone needs to do combined with a lack of logistical expertise. I’ll give you two examples from my own experience.
I attended a workshop that was supposed to be about economic justice. For half of the hour, the discussion was derailed by the same four or five privileged people wanting to share their amazement at how trans people and people of color are represented in our culture as disgusting and/or violent and/or doomed-to-die-a-horrible-death monsters. (Gasp!) There was a free-for-all of people sharing examples riddled with offensive and problematic language. I can’t tell you how many times I heard the words: “I’m not trans but… [insert blanket statement about The Trans Experience TM.]” There were also statements to the effect of: “I can’t believe trans people don’t just kill themselves, I know I would if it were me.” Meanwhile, the QPOC and trans folks in the audience struggled to re-focus the conversation back to class issues. At the end, the facilitator admitted that he had only been thinking about class issues for four months, that his workshop was the result of the first and only paper he wrote about intersectionality, and that he had no training whatsoever in facilitating group discussions about sensitive topics. Afterwards, the people who had offended me and my trans brother came up and all but asked us for cookies.
At another point during the conference I was standing with volunteers and a conference organizer when a participant approached us to say the following: “Hey volunteers, please be better about using people’s preferred pronouns. I’ve been misgendered so many times by volunteers today, it’s really not okay. I just want to remind you to ask people when you’re not sure. Thanks.” Without skipping a beat the conference organizer said: “Well, are you wearing your nametag where we can see it? I’ve told people to just use someone’s name when they’re not sure [not true, we were correctly told to ask for people’s pronouns] so since you’re not wearing your nametag that’s why you’re being misgendered.” No apology, no attempt to make amends, nothing.
At the unofficial trans caucus, AKA Family Dinner, we ended up writing a list of demands and suggestions for next year based on about 20 people’s experiences of anger, offense and exclusion. I won’t share those other experiences because they’re not mine, but suffice it to say they weren’t limited to not having gender neutral bathrooms.
I don’t bring this up for the sake of shit-talking. I did have positive experiences: two facilitators presented models that excluded trans folks and then corrected themselves when they got feedback about it; a number of allies asked me all the right questions; the DKR workshop covered about seventeen different bases in a huge ballroom of people in 55 minutes and I left inspired and entertained; Xavier led a very good last-minute Trans 101 workshop, just to name a few.
I simply wanted to speak up and tell you that in the midst of making new connections and having incredible conversations, I also felt invalidated in sometimes subtle and sometimes huge ways.
I’ll finish by saying that I don’t consider this an altogether horrible thing; many of the connections I made happened with other trans folks and POC when we talked to each other about our shitty experiences. As of Sunday we had a positive plan of action for next year. In order for privileged queers to do the work they need to do, marginalized folks need to build up our relationships and speak up, not just to them but also to each other. That’s what I’m planning to do for 2011 and that’s what I’m trying to do with this comment.
Respectfully and in solidarity,
I am really glad you wrote about your experiences here. One thing I didn’t mention is that because of presenting and working the majority of the conference, I wasn’t in very many workshops, which would explain not witnessing what you did. I will edit the entry to include this, as to not give the wrong impression about the conference. Again, I am glad to hear about your experiences, and sad to say that I am not at all surprised. I am glad people were speaking up about it though, which is a brave thing to do. I am happy to see that more and more, people are getting fed up and speaking up against things. In a lot of ways, I am still not so brave.
I totally agree about the bathroom situation. There were 3 non-gendered bathrooms, as many as there were men’s and women’s. I worked the bathrooms just fine. And didn’t get looked at funny when I was totally not passing in the men’s room. That was cool.
An issue I had as a transperson (especially as one who does not use binary pronouns) though was that they didn’t put pronouns on the name tags. If they had, it would have cut down on the number of mispronouns I got. It seems to me any time you need to know someone’s name, you need to know their pronouns if you’re making a trans/gender inclusive space. I mean, yes, mispronouning happens. But I can’t believe that this specific issue hasn’t been brought up before.
Mhm. Closed spaces are the best sometimes. I really appreciated the trans closed workshop I attended. If there had been a cis person in my discussion group it would have killed it for me. I am still trying to figure out what happened with the POC workshops since I was told that they weren’t *supposed* to be closed.
Or, rather, not all of them were supposed to be closed.
Wyatt: I was the boi/y who came up to the group about getting mispronouned. The ridiculous thing is that I got mispronouned while she was printing off my name tag. Thanks for being there cause that sucked having it thrown back in my face. I woulda been a lot more pissed if you hadn’t said something. I hate when I try to speak up and get shot down.
And about public binders? HELLS YA! I love my 988 cause I can just walk around in it all the time, espcially in summer.
I would love to see what y’all wrote up, if you have access to it.
I was in that Economic Justice workshop and was very embarrassed as a white, abled-bodied, cis queer for many of the things said.
I also, in JAC’s Genderqueer 101 workshop, got shot down by several people in the room for asking how to pose the right questions.
It is sometimes intimidating hearing how upset underprivileged people get when asked questions, making it hard to understand how to ask the right kinds. It was hard to ask the things I was wondering, with a room full of people to take offense. I attended the workshop with little-to-no experience and knowledge, and I thought that was okay (the group did, afterall, have 101 in the title). I went with intent to learn. I did learn some, but had I known how to ask the questions I had, I would have come out with much more.
I felt like there was a lot of finger-pointing. All the average conference go-ers got to hear was that there were people upset. Not about problems, or about solutions, or what we as a group could do…
I am not trying to start an argument, or upset anyone. But not being from those communities, I just didn’t understand. I acknowledge that I have privilege. I hope to team up with those who don’t. We have some common goals.
Thank you, everyone, for the insight.
I think that 101s are just the place for learning to ask questions. I believe that the workshop was carried away a little since so many were familiar with stuff, which is neither here no there. I agree that beginner dialogues are important, and often times people forget that. The result is being very judgmental of beginners, which is unfair. How can someone know when they have not been taught? So, if you would like more info about how to ask difficult questions, please email me and I would be happy to help. :)
too bad we couldn’t have this type of discussion at the conference before so many things got out of hand…maybe next year?
Thanks for your understanding about what went down in the Economic Justice workshop. It’s reassuring to hear that there were privileged people who were uncomfortable, too. I think that kind of empathy is the most important doorway to being a good ally.
One of the things we talked about at the trans caucus was how there should be more Trans 101 stuff for cis folks including a good list of polite ways to ask questions, things not to ask, how to use gender neutral pronouns, etc. in the conference materials.
I also regret that we weren’t able to organize any actions for cis folks to take that weekend; with such short workshops and such little time together we were barely able to organize ourselves. Hopefully next year will be much more carefully planned.
1. congratulations on some great performances at MBLGTACC. I have to admit it was quite a different feel having more kings than queens, though a welcome one.
2. Thank you for shedding some light on why so many people seemed upset about inclusion at the conference. Personally I thought the conference was well organized and balanced. There will always be issues with labels, and pronouns even in an inclusive space. But I guess I’m just a bit more laid back that the individuals that were upset.
Thanks so much, both of you.
A lot of my concerns were addressed in later workshops and some personal research done since I’ve been back, but I’ll send an email this weekend, if it’s not a big trouble, JAC.
I’ll be transferring next year from Michigan to Kansas, but I’ll be working hard to get back up for next year’s conference and collaborate with another from my school to present on allyship, across each of our communities. I’d love to have some conversations with those less-privileged about things they think are important for allies to know.
I’ll be in contact. :]
You did an amazing job at the drag show really rocked it out. Way to be super special awesome.
One of the allies which came with my group felt as if some of the groups where not as informative to her as it could have been. She felt as if she wasn’t being allowed to be an ally in the group as if she was some kind of outsider at the conference which I think is so wrong. Some people came so they could better inform themselves to the issues of the general GLBT community so she could work as an ally.
I thought that your presentation was amazing in the fact that it was so super informative. I have had little exposer to the trans-gendered community and i can honestly say that I probably asked some of the now know to be jerkish questions
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I think that there should have been more 101’s in differing areas in a bunch of areas because the reason why I and many of the people on my group was to become more informed. This is something which permeates just about everything right now. I have had talks with my psych and social work prof about the inadequacy of general knowledge basis training and of sensitivity training with with the GLBT community as a whole and with the trans-gendered community a little more specifically and how as a generalist social worker coming from my school how unable most people would be with helping these populations, and before the conference I am perty sure I might offend someone that would come to my office because I may ask the wrong questions and even now I could still do that and I think that is terrible. I think the conference next year should defiantly have some more 101 courses so people can learn. There are people who do want to learn because we want to be able to help or just be there for people in what ever way is needed and/or wanted.