As much as I enjoyed Wiscon last year, this time it was even better. I think coming in with a little bit of experience helped me set my expectations better, plus I knew more folks at the con this year. I managed to finish a shawl I’d been knitting, self-identify as “femme-curious” out loud for the first time, make some new friends, and speak on two panels without making a fool of myself.
First up was the Teaching Consent in Sex Ed panel, the one I was really looking forward to. I did spend some time Friday and Saturday morning nervously blurting out “I hope I don’t mess up on this panel coming up!” to just about every friend I talked to, but when the time came I felt pretty chill. Our moderator ducked out at the last minute, but someone else on the panel had moderated before and got us started. I was the only current sex educator on the panel; the others were parents, one of whom had done sex ed in the 80s but felt like he was saying things to his kids he didn’t approve of once he really thought about it.
The audience wasn’t huge but neither was the room, so it worked out. There were enough people that we had several good questions to address, but mostly the format was folks on the panel bringing up points they found important (I was able to go down most of my list of things I wanted to discuss) and then having other panelists & audience members branch off from there, and about halfway through we were open to questions as well.
It’s a little hard to have a discussion specifically about consent in sex ed without touching on more general issues – one of my points is that you can’t have consent without informed consent and so young people need to know the facts about what sex is, safer sex and birth control, etc. in order to make good choices around consent in relationships. I had some ideas on how to start teaching consent and bodily autonomy to younger children, but this is where the other panelists and audience were great; it’s not my area of expertise and I was glad to hear the thoughts of folks who work with or are parenting children.
So, yes! It felt like a success! I didn’t talk too much or act nervous, I learned some things and I hope the audience did too, and I left the panel feeling good about my part in it. I was also a little relieved that I am not personally responsible for a small child! Parent comments and questions were great in that panel and while I did have some ideas, I also realize that lack of experience with the under-13 set probably limits my helpfulness there.
When when I went back to my hotel room to relax a bit before dinner, though, I found out about the Isla Vista shootings, which put a huge damper on pretty much everything. I think if I’d seen that news before the panel, or if the panel had been on Sunday afternoon instead of Saturday, I would have focused a lot more on teaching young men that women do not exist to provide sex and that the entire MRA worldview is 100% poisonous garbage. Clearly I think those are important things to cover anyway, but holy fuck do we need to focus on that a bit extra right now.
The other panel I was on was a bit of a surprise; I volunteered to be on it just a few days before the con. It was a “queer alphabet” panel discussing the various umbrella terms and acronyms (LGBT+, QUILTBAG, GSM, queer, etc.), and the mod mentioned on tumblr that she really would like a trans person on the panel so I figured I may as well help out. At first I thought “eh, do I have a lot of opinions on this?” but it turned out I really do.
This panel experience turned out to be a helpful exercise in “being diplomatic when feeling frustrated or particularly strongly about something” as there were moments I needed that skill for sure! One person on the panel hit my Annoyance Button to the point that at one point I couldn’t tell if I really was irritated at everything he said or if I had just been irritated enough times that I was determined to continue. He wasn’t Actively Terrible, at least! Just rubbed me the wrong way on several statements. I got some sympathetic eye contact from an audience member the one time I had to gently facepalm while he was talking; I believe that was when he attributed low levels of bisexual/trans representation to the relatively lower number of such individuals when compared to gays and lesbians. Everyone else up there with me was pretty rad, though, and I think we all had useful points to make.
One of the questions we discussed was “does the A in LGBTQIA stand for ‘ally’ or ‘asexual’?” I had no idea that including “ally” in any queer acronym was even an option. I very firmly believe that part of being an ally isn’t taking up a lot of space in the group you’re trying to support and that when talking about things like employment rights, anti-discrimination laws, and media representation, “ally” doesn’t make sense in that acronym space. It was a bit of a bummer that apparently the audience had enough to say about this issue that we spent (what I thought was) waaaay too much time on the Trials of Straight Allies for a queer panel, though. Especially when some ace folks in the audience specifically said how much they appreciated that asexuality was included in the alphabet soup more often. I didn’t quite have the guts to say “the fact that we’re centering the discussion on ally experiences during a panel about queer folks kind of proves my point why I don’t think they belong in the acronym” but I thought it very loudly.
I realize I’ve mentioned frustrations, but I did enjoy the panel quite a bit! Even comments I didn’t agree with were still interesting and fun to engage with, for the most part, and it was a fun challenge to prepare for a panel on short notice. Plus I figure it’s good experience as I’d love to be on more panels at future cons.
They were two very different panels, for sure, but both were positive experiences and I’m glad I got over my initial nervousness. I’m already looking forward to next year.
(Bonus fun fact: before the sex ed panel, I had a dream in which Scott Thompson from the Kids in the Hall took it over and used that time to show art films of trees. I stood up to him and had to convince my fellow panelists to join forces and convince him to let us run the panel as scheduled, but by the time we kicked him out we only had a half-hour left before it was over.)