There will be many blogs in which I highlight why CatalystCon is worthy of every positive adjective and ounce of enthusiasm it gets.
This is not one of them. Stay with me.
Once I came out of my shell a bit (it took a few hours and glasses of wine), I had nothing but positive interactions, some that will be written about, and some that… won’t. The thing that immediately blew me away was the inclusiveness. Everyone had each other’s back (front too… but mostly back). People were attentive to each other in a way I had never seen. People cared about me, and my boundaries, and making sure I felt comfortable. People who I should have known about but didn’t (and subsequently made an ass out of myself in front of) laughed and joked with me and I never got a single air of ego or pretension. Everything was beautiful and nothing hurt (shoutout Vonnegut).
When I was a kid I saw someone on TV put a penny on a railroad track, and when it was run over it took that cool “I was just run over by a train” shape. My mom told me not to ever do that, as just one penny could derail an entire train and hurt everyone on it. I grew up a bit and realized she was wrong. Then I went to Catalyst and grew up a bit more and realized she was right.
Coming from an extremely conservative Irish Catholic background, it took until I was an adult to realize that older people are not all stuffy tight-asses. Betty and Carol’s relationship was so warm and obvious, I couldn’t help but fantasize about sitting up with my best friend in 60 years having conversations like that. They have done so much work that has affected all of us in such innumerable ways that I’m pretty sure the only reason why Dee Dennis named it “Catalyst” was because “The Carol Queen and Betty Dodson Sexuality Symposium” just doesn’t have the same ring to it.
Enough blogs have been written about this that I do not feel compelled to explain what happened in detail. And chances are, if you’re reading this, you were either there or already know.
I didn’t realize that people were upset until after the fact. That being said, (and this next bit is really really really important, so fucking pay attention), I don’t have a problem with the fact that anyone was upset. My problem is that the way it was handled was in direct opposition to the spirit of the conference itself.
How do you spend 3 days talking about inclusion and not judging, only to judge?
How do you mock the conservative faction of this country for not being able to handle exposure to your lifestyle, yet balk when someone discloses an experience you find unacceptable?
How do you nod so emphatically every time someone makes a reference to how we’re all in this together, then spray so much vitriol just because you felt uncomfortable?
I’m not going to tell you whether or not you should have been uncomfortable. That’s not my place. What I will tell you is that if you were uncomfortable, learn from it. Remember what that feels like. Think about how awful you felt, then think about every time you made someone else uncomfortable and didn’t care. Every time you chalked it up to someone being too judgmental, or not open-minded enough. Every time you cried because of the hatred you’ve had to endure because you were the unfair victim of someone who had been made uncomfortable.
To dust off my psych degree for a moment, anger is a secondary emotion. That means it is caused by another emotion, and not the stimulus directly. Anger is primarily caused by hurt and fear (ie, I’m angry because you hurt my feelings, or because I’m afraid that you will hurt them based on the behaviors exhibited). A whole host of other emotions lead to anger as well, including (but not limited to) envy, shame, and resentment.
Image from Men For Change, The Online Healthy Relationships Project, 1998.
We use anger as a self-preservation response. It’s a defense. If I’m angry, I don’t have to look at myself. If I’m angry, you’re the problem.
Why am I going on about this? Because people were hurt, and that’s totally not the point. A healthy discourse could have been had about this, and I’m starting to see that finally take form now that the dust has settled. But more importantly, what’s done is done. It can’t be changed. So, like a good progressive community committed to change, we need to take a look at what we can do better next time.
My advice (for what it’s worth) is to take a breath. Examine yourself. When you’re feeling angry, try to figure out what emotion is causing it and address that one instead. 140 characters may very well be enough for you to convey how you feel, but it can’t possibly contain the complexity of the issue. Ask yourself if the issue you are addressing is deserving of more thought, and more words, than twitter can provide.
The answer is more than likely yes.