When a presenter is actively sought out to speak at a conference there is a joy and a trepidation that happens. Joy in being sought out, but trepidation that the expectation of what you can do has already been set. At least, that’s how I felt when organizer Juana Tango contacted me about Open SF. I had watched with interest on FL as talk about this conference started making the rounds and as a polyamorous person, had decided that I wanted to attend if it didn’t interfere with Desire, which I am on staff for. That fear was assuaged when it was decided by my Beloved and I that our honeymoon expenses would be covered by the same amount we spend on working and attending Desire so with heavy hearts we said we’d see our beloved Desire tribe next year. That meant that when Juana Tango asked me if I’d be interested, I was free and available.
As a presenter, it is hard to balance the needs of the conference with the needs to keep a roof over one’s head. As a new conference, and new to the Bay Area for presenting, not charging a speaking fee was the most equitable solution I felt for both parties. They were still able to get some amazing keynote speakers, Tristan Taormino, Yoseñio Lewis, and Ignacio Rivera were amazing both as presenters and in their keynotes.
Another stumbling block for me as a presenter/attendee was the fact that as a Queer of Color (QoC) I am more than willing to discuss what this means in all my different communities. So, not only did I present my “Intimacy of Sacred Kink” but I also participated in a panel discussion named, “Poly “isms”: Addressing Multiple Marginalizations in Non-Monogamous and Kink Community” with Virgie Tovar, Stacy Reed, and Invisibleank, to talk about the experiences we have had as People of Color in the different alternative sexuality communities here and in the broader areas we hail from that was moderated by Irene McCalphin.
Why do I bring up all this backstory? Because most of the media has been silent on the aspect of the conference that made the biggest impact to the attendees; the inclusion and hard work of making sure that marginalized communities in the majority society (which I define as heterocentric, cissexist, gender normative, male-dominated, and white) were represented.
This article from an attendee has a clear focus (and they’re an awesome blog to follow, IMO) but all I can hear is that the experience was one where the gaze was very much on the things he was interested in seeing and hearing and does justice to the presenters but only notes the keynotes and presenters he attended; all white. Which is not a bad thing, it’s just a thing. But, in a way, it also speaks to the experience of a person who isn’t of color and already subject to marginalization by the majority society.
This article does slightly better, but by drawing the focus on the ideas of communication no matter what expressions of sexuality happen in a relationship (kink, poly, etc.) while diminishing the idea that there was a presentation (which they mention) on kink, race, and class by Ignacio and Yoseñio, it lends credence to this being like any other typical conference. The article even asks that question in the beginning, “One of the first questions that arose was whether such a conference was even necessary. Isn’t sexuality something that comes naturally to most people? Does it need to be taught? Don’t people figure it out for themselves?” The producers, presenters, staff, volunteers, and attendees certainly felt that the answer was an enthusiastic YES! Because while sexuality is a personal thing, it is also a very political thing when it is not a part of the majority society, and therefore, being able to ask the questions of privilege within a sexual community, and how to deal with that, is important and necessary work. I’m not saying that it isn’t fun, sex is one of the most fun things out there, expressing my sexuality (in all its vast ways) is my life’s work; but I don’t live in a vacuum, and I can’t pretend that my sex isn’t informed by my experiences as a woman-shaped genderqueer of color of Mexican heritage of a lower working class/immigrant family. Even when I’m by myself, who I am isn’t set aside just because I have a Hitachi between my legs.
A big part of my willingness to participate in Open SF was Pepper Mint and the rest of the staff were willing to challenge themselves during the process of creating a line-up. In talking to him about it, he (I am using the gender pronoun I have seen most often applied, and apologize if this is incorrect.) talked about how there were people on staff originally who were upset and dropped out when the focus became less about the ‘fun’ stuff and more about the ‘hard’ stuff. A shame to have lost them, but at the same time, it meant that walking the halls of the host hotel I didn’t feel like I needed to wrap the flags of my intersections tight around me like a cocoon to shield myself from the White Male Gaze. I attended caucuses and presentations where the question of, “How do I make this work for me as a person of color?” wasn’t answered with there is no change because lalalalalalala I don’t see your color, but with careful thought out consideration for what that means in this country. And that, is a success to me.
Maybe I am biased because I attended more of the presentations by people of color than not, but for me, as a queer of color, as a non-gendernormative person, as a woman-shaped person, talking about how this body and the steps it takes as political acts, are a respite for a world-weary view. I grow tired of being the ‘one and only’ in a room full of people who when they step out of the dungeon space, or the cuddle party space, appear for all intents and purposes to be the majority society. I can’t do that. So, I live my full poly, kinky, pagan, genderqueer life, that’s a political act in itself. But, Open SF, gave me a platform to show me that I am not alone, and that the majority society types who inhabit these same spaces, now know I am there too. And I’m not going away.