On Saturday, March 27th, I went to the Five College Queer Sexuality & Gender Conference at Hampshire College. I was hesitant as I walked through those doors as I always am when I can’t put my finger on how white a space is. But I was also uncomfortable because of my sexism, heavily internalized hetero-centrism and my transphobia. I walked through the doors of this conference, expecting that I would be very uncomfortable for the next few hours.
During my time at this conference, I wasn’t aware of the radical nature of the space; there were folks from almost every aspect of the gender and sexuality spectrum, but overall, it felt more like a gathering than anything else. Looking back, I couldn’t be more wrong. Only because of the fear and hatred professed by the world concerning difference, and especially difference concerning gender and sexuality, was this space so incredibly rare. I am a fairly large framed, black Dominican/Haitian identified male, and this shapes my life in innumerable ways. The conference reawakened my desire to treat myself with delicacy, with love, with attraction. Robyn Ochs, the keynote speaker, told us she had never been in a place where folks thought of these issues so deeply and freely before.
I went to my first workshop, Trans 101 and left it with the realization that most folks, myself included, use the acronym LGBTQ, without really ever taking the time to make an inclusive space for the T.
I let that sink in.
During lunch I spent some time standing in a corner not knowing how to communicate. I was preoccupied I would offend people by communicating ‘wrongly,’ by playing into the whole notion of stereotyping. I was bugged down by the fact that it is so hard to see someone and not treat them based on your initial prejudices of them.
I waited for the Anti-Racism in the Queer Community workshop with a nervous kind of excitement, and thankfully, I wasn’t let down. We played a game, where as a group, we had to figure out a puzzle. There is a rising flood and 14 people on the roof with short yet specific bios (a Hasidic Jew, a burned victim, a person with life insurance, etc). There is a boat that can only hold 10 people. You have 7 minutes. My group sacrificed a few folks, and so did all the other groups. We made our decisions by evaluating people based on who would be most likely to survive in a time of crisis. We very clearly resorted to our deep-seated prejudices, all justified on the fact that we were in an emergency. We then found out that you can save everyone by using the boat in creative ways, but no one even considered the possibility. It let us sit with our socialization to amerikan individualistic culture where only the best survive, best of course, being defined by our miniature world views and our majority lackluster control of our emotions. It effectively dispelled my fear of whiteness being the unspoken foundation of this conference, which loosened me up a bit.
Sunset. I headed to my last workshop run by the keynote speaker, Robyn Ochs, titled ‘Beyond Binaries: Identity and Sexuality’. I don’t think I had ever been so uncomfortable in a setting before. Speaking of gender and sexuality as existing on a spectrum, and thinking we can move along this spectrum continuously throughout our lives, made my body shiver for some reason, it made my bones feel stiff. I felt paralyzed, because I was in a place I had not been in before. The openness in which we talked of this gender and sexual spectrum was exciting and also terrifying. I realize my reaction came from a place of fearing the possibility I would find out something I didn’t want to accept about myself. Ochs then spoke of attraction as being composed of a million different elements that sometimes seem incredibly irrational, and of our similarities only really resting in how different we all are. I saw how my paralysis came from an urge to push love away from myself, and from denying the idea that I can fully embrace myself in all of my differences. I had undermined how deep my fear of homosexuality was, and how much damage that did to me, and others around me.
I have put a good amount of work into trying to understand how my male identity influences and affects others. To hear someone speak about my sexual identity as being defined in a box, is insulting, categories are stifling. This cracked when I tasted the freedom of defining myself based on how I feel. It is such a radical conception nowadays, to define our sexuality and gender based primarily on what feels best, as opposed to as a reaction to the terror of white domination and supremacy, patriarchy, classicism, ableism, heterosexism, and all those other ways that make people feel crushed and paralyzed.
Overall, it was a conference that began to unravel my denial of myself, and I was faced with the question of what I was afraid of. I was afraid of difference, of having to rethink what it means to be a man of color, to rethink my gender and sexual identification. My mind, these fingers, these eyes, my arms, my skin, my sexuality, my gender, my hair, my history, my attractions, they all see the possibility of loving themselves with a desire to be with one another as wholly as possible. I don’t feel as dirty, and I can’t begin to describe how grateful I am for that. It was liberation I tasted that day, the possibility of a different frame of thinking, a different form of me, or more specifically, the beginning of a journey to my truer form.