For the last week or so, I was back home in Minneapolis. This trip was specifically to attend the Creating Change Conference. Creating Change, for those of you not in the know, is the largest gathering of LGBT organizers in the world, and it happens each February in a different mid-sized U.S. city. The conference is comprised of two days of day long institutes, plenaries, and hundreds of workshops. It stretches from Wednesday-Sunday, and the 2,500 people in attendance reads like the Who's Who of the movement for queer liberation.
This year was my 10th Creating Change conference since 1998. To give you an idea of where the conferences have gone, I have been to Pittsburgh, Oakland (twice), Atlanta, Milwaukee, St. Louis, Minneapolis, Denver, Miami and a couple that I have forgotten. Good grief.
When you first attend the conference, almost universally, you are overawed by both the content and the names that are walking about. One of my proudest moments was being yelled at by Barbara Smith at my first conference. Yes, THAT Barbara Smith of Kitchen Table Press and the Combahee River Collective. If like me in 1998, you don't know who Barbara Smith is...then you need to Google her now. Fierce. By about your third or fourth Creating Change, if you have continued your work in the movement, you start to realize that though the workshops and plenaries are powerful, the real work happens every day, all day long, in the hotel bar.
Let's be real...the hotel bar of every Creating Change IS the cigar smoke filled back-room of the LGBT movement. As I explained to some straight friends recently, power politics of the HIGHEST degree in the queer movement takes place during this conference. It's a case study in the way that American movements work in the non-profit industrial complex age. And what's even more mind numbing is that while some folks exude an essence of "player," power and access only have a superficial correlation to your current job title. In fact, your personal work is often more greatly valued than whatever position you may currently hold, and since most people at the conference change jobs like I change condoms during the conference, what pays your bills is often far down the list in terms of the access you might have.
I started attending Creating Change when I was a youth of 21 years old (and I had just turned 21...the conference used to happen, annually, in November). For the last 13 years, as I have worked within and outside of the movement, I have still been fairly awed by the conference. There are names and faces that would make me stutter and stammer, and while each year I have enjoyed fairly strong access to the decision makers in the movement, I still felt like one of the whippersnappers trying to figure things out and listening to whatever the hell Mr. Russell Roybal told me about what was REALLY going down.
I heart me some Russell. Yes I do. And I appreciate all the opportunities that he has provided me over the years.
But this year something different took place. For the first time, I had people walking up to me (that I didn't know) saying the same sort of things that I STILL say to folks...things like..."I READ ALL YOUR SHIT AND I LOVE IT!" Basically, I found myself in the shoes of the people that I have often found inspirational. I had people that knew my name, knew my work, read my blog, read things I've written in their college classrooms, and heard me speak at this or that place.
I felt OLD AS HELL.
I also felt extremely and totally humbled AND really very scared. And I mean both of those things.
Let me give you an example. I just finished writing my first novel. I am in the process of reading the whole thing through for the first time, and there are things that I wrote that are really very smart...(hold on...this isn't as egotistical as it sounds)...and while reading what I wrote I seriously could not 1) remember writing it, 2) understand where the poignancy came from, and 3) I fundamentally don't believe that *I* actually wrote it. Now I KNOW that I physically typed the words but there is a part of me that still believes those tapes that say I am not actually smart or fierce or beautiful or strong enough to have written those things.
Ain't life grand.
So, when these people came up to me and were saying these sorts of things, I got scared because I felt like a big old fraud. I was/am afraid that they are going to find out that really....I don't know what the hell I am talking about, that I make up half the shit I say, and that the other half is something I probably got from Wikipedia. Don't you laugh at me.
As the conference went on and person after person (almost always young people), said the same sorts of things, I thought to myself...you know what dude...you need to start believing in yourself. If these strangers can believe the things you put out in the world, don't you think you should?
Yep. I should.
The clincher for me was the fact that I got to present Mr. Kenyon Farrow with an award from Queers for Economic Justice at their annual event. If you don't know Kenyon, and if you don't Google HIM now, then you and I aren't friends.
Let me say that being asked to present someone that is at the core of what it means to be a progressive, radical and transformative change maker was humbling and a shock to the butt. I thought to myself (after I got done crying in front of a hundred people)...that if I am good enough to give an award to Kenyon, then I must not be those things that those tapes inside tell me.
So, this blog is my way of saying that right here and now I am going to go right on ahead and believe that I am smart. I am going to believe that I sometimes have something valuable to say, and that I am worthy of the leadership that has, from time to time, been entrusted to me by my peers.
Thank you all for helping me see myself better.