For a week now I've been wanting to write about the MOMENTUM Conference, which was held on April 1-3 in Silver Spring, MD. Subtitled Making Waves in Sexuality, Feminism, and Relationships Through New Media, it was one of the most inspiring weekends I've spent in a long time. But I haven't been able to write about it. Today I realized why not. But first about the conference.
Kudos to Tess Danesi and Diva for organizing this FIRST Annual conference! From the moment I found out about it, and decided to attend, I was impressed with all aspects of the conference, from the ease of registration, the continuing stream of updates as panels were set (not to mention the awesome topics and presenters of said panels), and maybe most of all, for me at least, the affordability of this conference ($55 for non-early bird registration). I'd had to pass up a writer's conference earlier in the year because I just couldn't afford it and I'd been quite depressed about that. But this one I could, and for that I'm eternally grateful, since this may have been a turning point for me. You can read Diva's account of the conference here.
I really liked how the schedule was set up. The conference began Friday evening with a meet & greet ice cream sundae bar (quite delicious) and the very funny Maria Falzone with an abbreviated version of her Sex Rules. Then there was the amazing opening keynote panel with Jenny Block, Reid Mihalko, Carol Queen, Tristan Taormino, and moderator Lynn Comella. The next day was filled with interesting sessions and I only wish I could have been in more than one place at a time. I'm not going to go into the individual sessions here (that would take me all night to write up), but to get a sense of what was available, you can go here and check them out.
There were several aspects of the weekend that were special. My friend and I stayed with Emerald, and so I got to spend more time with a good friend that I've made through the wonderful world of erotica blogland. I got to get books signed: Jenny Block's Open: Love, Sex, and Life in an Open Marriage, Carol Queen's PoMoSexuals: Challenging Assumptions about Gender and Sexuality, Tristan Taormino's The Ultimate Guide to Anal Sex for Women, and Susie Bright's memoir Big Sex Little Death. And I got to sit in on a panel on Sunday morning, Sex Positive Interventions: The Feminist Sex Wars and Beyond, that was not only amazing, but while I listened, gears clicked into place in my head and a bunch of vague ideas I'd had started coming together.
Okay, I've gone on and on. So, why did I have trouble writing about this? Well, besides the fact that it's impossible to condense a weekend full of information into a short blog post, there's been a vague sadness that I've been experiencing since the conference. Some of that is normal, there's always a bit of a letdown after a great event when you realize it's over. But for me there was more.
And this is where I start to get nervous. Because one thing that I realized in that panel on Sunday morning is I have to write as honestly, stark and raw, as I possibly can. If I try to hide at all, my writing will be mediocre. So, here I go again, stepping out of my comfort zone.
The whole weekend of the conference, I absolutely LOVED being amongst myriad sex-positive folks of all persuasions. It just felt GOOD. I was impressed by the maturity and thoughtfulness of everyone - presenters and attendees. I kept wishing I could magically materialize various people I know and say "look at this! isn't it wonderful!?" Yet, in the back of my mind, there was the constant knowledge that there was no way I could have had the guts to attend myself even just a few years ago.
WHY? Well, the title of the conference gives me all the reasons.
Making Waves - I avoid conflict like the plague. I grew up trying (and failing) to be the peacemaker in my family. I rarely express my opinion aloud if I'm sure that someone will disagree with me. Not because I don't lack conviction, but because standing up for what I believe in scares the shit out of me. Right now I'm scared that someone (that amorphous someone) will read this and be angry/disappointed/whatever at me for something I say here. I must say I've gotten better over the past few years, but I still get almost sick to my stomach when I think of actually disagreeing with someone. So me make waves? Scary!
Sexuality - My life has been shaped in both good and bad ways by sex and sexuality. For most of my life I was ashamed of my sexuality and it scared me. Yeah, you'll see the word scared sprinkled liberally through here. But now that I feel I'm starting to get my shit together around my sexuality, I've reached menopause, and my sexuality is changing, and I almost feel gypped. And I've got to come to terms with that. But still, sex and sexuality are so important to me, that I've realized I can't just let it go and take up something else, say counted cross-stitch? [trying to be funny]
Feminism - I've been a stay at home mom for most of my adult life - only worked for odd times and have no "career" to go back to now that my kids are pretty much all grown. Unless you count writing, which I've only come back to in the past 10 years and you really couldn't call it anything more than a hobby till now. And some might still call it that. I've always felt a jab of anxiety whenever someone would ask me "What do you do?" because I always assumed the "correct" answer to be something other than "I'm a mom." Nowadays I answer "writer," but even that makes me feel like I'm telling a fib, because it's not something I could support myself through, at least not now. So, does that count? Yeah, I've got a lot of self-worth issues surrounding my choices. Can I claim "feminist" if I haven't even made enough money over the course of my adult life to qualify for social security? I can't help but feel I flunked some test.
Relationships - Lots of poly-positive (poly meaning polyamorous) folks and topics at this conference. And though that was wonderful, it also made me a little sad. Probably because poly folks stress communication, and in my long-term, monogamous marriage (which I'm very happy in), communication is something that isn't a strong point. Probably because we both were raised in families that didn't talk about stuff. And though I've brought up the subject of polyamory, I've never felt that I've really been able to explain my thoughts on the subject, probably because of my fear of "making waves." But I keep trying to understand myself and my sexuality, and maybe I'll even learn to communicate in the way I'd like to. There's also very personal reasons why this makes me a little sad, but I'm choosing to not go into that here.
New Media - My writing is a constant struggle. I've got self-esteem issues (nobody wants to read what I have to say) and I have focus issues and there's also that good-buddy of mine, shame, because what I want to write about is sex. I'm envious of those whose lives have brought them to a place where they can operate from a place that isn't hip-deep in shame. I believe that shame is the reason we have such fucked up ideas about what constitutes "proper" sexuality (like that could ever exist!). Despite my Fuck Shame necklace (which I wore all weekend as a talisman of sorts), I still carry that shadow. I don't feel it as much, but I know it's been there and it's left it's high-water mark on my life. But I have to write, so I have to write over the shame.
Which brings me to my inspiration. Like I said, I'm envious of those who can be so openly sex-positive. I want to be. But I still carry a life-time of sex-negative messages. One of the strongest, most pervasive is DON'T TALK ABOUT IT! Sex is private. Naturally, right? No. I've come to believe that it's wrong to keep it all quiet, hush-hush, under wraps, etc. etc. ad nauseum. So, I figure I have to start speaking up. Speaking out. And that's fucking scary. All too often I've felt that people (those amorphous people) see me as naive, and someone who doesn't know what she's talking about, probably because whenever I've been questioned, I've caved, afraid of the conflict that might come from standing up for whatever it is.
Most of the time I feel like I don't really have much to offer. That others can say things much more eloquently than I and with much more conviction and intelligence. So I've held my tongue. But during this momentous weekend, after that Sunday morning session, I was speaking with Carol Queen and tried to put my ideas into words (I didn't think I did that great a job) and she said "your voice is needed." Then later, she wrote in the book I held out to her: "For Robin! Write your heart out - I look forward to reading it!"
So, now my question to myself is this: Will you have the guts Robin? Will you be able to write honestly even if what you write might (or most certainly will) make the people who love you squirm? Will you be able to speak your truth, even if it's not socially accepted in our current culture? Can you have the courage of your convictions?
Only time will tell.