Tuesday, February 12, 2013

MBLGTACC part 1: Unpacking MBLGTACC

At the moment I am recovering from an incredible weekend at the Midwest Bisexual, Lesbian, Gay, Transgender, Ally, College Conference otherwise known as MBLGTACC. This is one of the largest annual conferences in the country, certainly the largest in the Midwest, that is specifically about queer issues. Over 2000 people of all different identities, some of them far beyond the scope of the included acronym, converge on a college somewhere for a single weekend of discussions, workshops, networking, learning, teaching, and in some cases having conference sex. I hope that explains the delay in posting this. People don't sleep at MBLGTACC so much as they close their eyes briefly between late night events and early morning ones, and I've been thrust straight back into normative society and homework without processing time. Expect several posts in this series but don't expect them all right away.

I want to spend some time unpacking my own experiences at the conference, and the conference in general. As amazing as the conference was for me there is still a barrier of entry that includes monetary requirements, college attendance, and travel. There is a value to sharing some of the insights gained in this setting with people that couldn't access it, and allowing additional processing opportunities for the people in attendance. While I hope that much of my blog will be easily accessible without needing to locate a ton of outside readings, some posts are predominantly aimed at those that have an understanding of a specific community already. While I will try to provide some links for “obscure” terms my expectation is that people already in the LGBTQ community will be the ones most interested in MBLGTACC.

If you're utterly lost this may be a post to explore again after I've had the chance to elaborate on more topics.

As a final note of disclaimer this is a description of my personal experience. I cannot do justice to the concerns over accessibility issues or the attempts to delegitimize Trans women by the Lesbian Connection group at the conference. I'm not sufficiently informed about either incident and there are better bloggers than I that will almost certainly be covering it. These were major issues that cast a shadow over the conference and they cannot be ignored, but I also know better than to try to explain them from the position of an uninformed ally. I also cannot speak for bisexuals that felt their identities had been misrepresented in bi-pan-fluid spaces. Although I was a witness to some of those incidents, I cannot speak for those individuals. Finally, my personal experience of the conference was overwhelmingly positive, but that shouldn't detract from the problems that people of other identities had to face at it in terms of overall consideration of the event.

For this post I want to look at the overall feel of the event, how it differs from normative spaces, and why it manages to linger with me so long. Hopefully this can offer some insight into the construction of queer spaces generally. It's hard to put into words why some of it was amazing to me. Non-gendered multi-stall bathrooms, for instance, don't seem like the kind of thing someone can get excited about, but to experience a space radically removed from arbitrary societal restrictions and to watch that space continue to work without the breakdown that normative society warn of shows a concrete example of how queer theory can work in practice. Allowing every individual to share their pronouns instead of assigning them by visual stereotypes, while still imperfect in a society that ingrains this instinct in us, offers a form of empowerment that is just as meaningful and important as the right to wear the clothes one chooses. Cuddle puddles of ambiguously gendered people, any or all of whom might be romantically involved with the others, and brightly dyed hair contributed to a sense that different priorities held sway than those we empower in society as a whole.

This atmosphere I describe still resonates with me as slightly mystical. Especially for its absence. While I can never say for sure without knowing someone what they identify as in their private lives, I can feel fairly assured that most people I meet outside of queer spaces are not queer. I can say this not out of a sense of heterosexism but rather because all of the problems in society aren't already solved. As cruel as it is to say the feeling I have now is comparable to jet lag. I feel dragged down by my own disinterest in anything the dominant culture can present to me. I find myself shaking my fist at gendered bathroom signs, even while acknowledging how strange it seems from the outside, and pondering acts of transgression in class rooms while I'm unable to focus on my assignments. Everything that is valuable only because it is expected of me fails to keep my interest.

I can definitively say that I'm not alone in this. I've managed to keep up with new friends from MBLGTACC that share my experiences. The lackluster return to the mundane can't compete with the sense of less for having left an attempted utopia, however flawed that attempt was in reality. For a brief period of time involving almost no sleep, uncomfortable beds, early mornings, and overpriced food we lived on a higher plane. Now we're back, but our heads remain in the clouds, pondering the place that most closely resembles where we truly belong.

For the next few posts I'll try to be more concrete. Look forward to discussions of workshops, open caucuses, and allies.

Update: I'll be adding basics, intermediate, and advanced tags to content so interested readers can find posts based on an identity they're interested in learning about and read from their individual level of understanding

Part 2 is here
Part 3 is here 

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