101 Questions in 301 Spaces

I spent the first few days of this week at YTH Live; it’s a conference I’ve been aware of in the past but hadn’t learned much about or had the chance to attend before now. It’s a nice little conference and while there were perhaps a few more presentations about youth than by youth, the young people I did see presenting were all amazing. I was particularly impressed by the three teenagers from redefy who presented on Monday; they were passionate about their work and were clearly giving a lot of thought to some pretty big questions about how to achieve their goals and structure the organization. I don’t spend a lot of time around teenagers in my daily life; there’s Scarleteen, but that’s not in person and I usually only get a picture of very limited parts of the users’ lives there. It’s pretty great to be in a space where ambitious young folks are kicking ass and upstaging the (very competent in their own right) adults around them.

What I’ve been thinking about the most since the conference isn’t directly related to amazing youth activists, though. On Monday there was a panel called “Gender Health Access and Data” with the following program description:

Approaches and attitudes toward healthcare for Transgender and Nonbinary youth have changed radically in the past few years, and will be continuing to evolve rapidly in the near future. Come learn more about how you can help this community thrive.

I figured that while I’d probably know a lot of the information in the panel, it would be a good one to attend anyway; I’m not as up on current healthcare-access information as I should be since I’m just doing ongoing hormonal maintenance and have no gatekeeper bullshit in my immediate future, barring a move to a town where trans-friendly medical care is harder to come by. Plus, based on their bios I really wanted to hear what these particular presenters (Gwen Smith and Steph Nagoski) had to say.

Overall it was a helpful panel; a lot of it was a basic overview of the history of trans healthcare and how things like the DSM and WPATH Standards of Care have changed over time but there were some helpful recent statistics and details about changes in diagnosis language that I wasn’t aware of. Most of the panels at YTH were set up so that two or three groups gave a talk of 15-20 minutes about their particular projects, with a joint q&a session at the end, but since this was just one set of presenters they decided to take questions as they went along, making it a bit more of a discussion. And I think that was a good call, given the panel topic, but it was easier to get off-track a bit. It seemed like a lot of time was taken up explaining (and sometimes re-explaining) some fairly basic concepts in response to audience questions, mostly from one person. The presenters thought so too, I’m pretty sure; I remember Steph saying “we’re 30 minutes in and I’m still on the first slide, so let’s move along” to cut off questions at one point.

At the beginning of the panel, the presenters were asking if anyone in the audience was a professional who came into contact with trans youth, and the particular person who was asking a lot of basic questions raised her hand. Obviously I want someone in that position to have a solid grasp on basic concepts! But it was also really frustrating to take time out of a panel on a pretty involved subject to go over why “they” is an acceptable pronoun set to use, or to listen to a meandering statement about how maybe having so many labels these days is really just confusing things more than it’s helping anyone. Oof.

At one point, someone else in the audience told her “it sounds like you have a lot to learn and I encourage you to take time to educate yourself” in a very sweet but direct way and I really appreciated that. I realize that cis folks will probably be looking for and expecting something a bit different from trans panels than I am, and I want to respect that and not get cranky at people for seeking some explanation when it’s needed. I do think, though, that it’s not unreasonable to expect people to take some time to do some self-education if there are some points that still aren’t clicking. It was a bit frustrating to feel like the entire audience was being pulled back to that initial 101-level infodump when there was a lot of ground to cover and it seemed like pretty much everyone else in the room was ready to move on. And even if one person, or a few people, are a little lost, it’s important for a presenter or panelist to cover the information they set out to discuss.

I’m left wondering what the best solution is. I’m aware that I might be grumpier than I need to be about some of these 101-level questions, especially in the context of a conference that is not specifically trans-focused*.  I do want folks who genuinely want to learn and understand new concepts to get the information they need in a way that makes sense to them, and I know it’s not helpful to eyeroll at ignorant questions as long as they’re asked respectfully. But at the same time, I’m tired of the same well-worn ground being tread every time someone tries to lay down some basic information as a foundation for actual new content. I respect those who are willing to answer those sorts of questions, because for the most part I’ve sworn off of it. Do I need to be more patient? Maybe. Do cis folks need to listen a bit more and hold their questions until an appropriate time? Yep. Am I very very glad I am no longer tasking myself with answering basic 101 questions that strangers have for me? Hell yeah.


*I didn’t write about it here, but I went to Gender Odyssey in Seattle last fall, mostly for Scarleteeny purposes. Sadly, even in this explicitly trans-friendly and trans-centering space, cis folks who were attending felt the need to take up a lot of time during panels with personal stories of how hard [loved one]’s transition was for them, inappropriate questions, digressions, etc. Only one moderator did much to shut these down (she was one of the youngest moderators there; once again the young participants at conferences are impressing me the most), and honestly in these instances I think my grumpiness was 100% justified. It was not appropriate in that space at all, especially since there was even a track of family-member-specific programming.

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2 Responses to 101 Questions in 301 Spaces

  1. Sam says:

    Sweet and direct is such a soothing balm for the growing pains of becoming human. Can we deploy an on-call horde of people with this gift to all the forums and conferences forever? Even in relatively simple, non-experience based professional forums, I encounter more and more adults with reasons why their inquisition agenda is more important than the agreed-upon topic. Maybe I’m getting (definitely am getting) older and less patient and grouchier, and still this very phenomenon of the in-an-inappropriate-space-needy-discussion-commandeerer seems to me suddenly to be omnipresent. Literally at a tequila/mezcal talk the other day and someone was beefing about border politics. Wha???

  2. Just saw your feedback and comments on our session. Thanks so much for your direct perspective! You’re so right, there’s a huge struggle in any session like this between making room for the 101 topics, and moving the conversation forward into the Current topics and our current struggles.

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