It's been nearly two months since I attended my last conference and I thought it was about time I wrote about some of the things I learned.
A little back story first, though.
When my friend wanted to create a conference for sex positive discussions, I was supportive of her goals, excited for her ambitions, and ready to stand by her during all of the crazy that would be sure to ensue. I thought I'd make myself perfectly clear that such a conference really wasn't my milieu, but that I'd do what I could to help her, support her, and be around for her to bounce ideas off of. I wasn't (and I'm still not) interested in nearly any of the topics discussed at such a conference, and I really don't know many of the speakers who are "popular" in that area. I have my own interests and I learned really early on at my very first conference of this type that my particular interests have little place in that arena (other than to be 50 Shaded to Death and Back).
I'd actually not planned to attend the west coast conference, but she'd caught me in a moment of weakness and off I went. I met some really cool people, and had a somewhat interesting time. And I did learn a lot- just not in any session.
When the east coast conference came around, I also wasn't sure I was going to attend. My job is stressful, money was tight, and the timing was difficult. But I decided that I wanted to support my friend and so I made plans to go.
I hated every single moment of that conference. But I did learn (at least I read it on twitter) that it was my last.
I learned that in that milieu, I would be punished for something I didn't even know I'd done, and not be told about it until weeks later. Here's a clue- when someone is so totally out of their own scene- and they fuck something up- it might be a "learning experience" for everyone involved if - instead of giving the cold shoulder for three days- a person would just say something. Anything. A "that was really hurtful" at the time it happened, would have gone a long way. Spending three days mad at someone and not telling them why sounds a lot like one of the reasons I got divorced.
I learned that in that milieu, it's still about star fucking. I spent a lot of time that weekend watching people. Were there cliques? Absolutely. Were people discussing lofty topics and having intellectual discussions about the sessions they attended? No. What I saw for the most part was people hanging with their peer groups, with people they already knew, and talking about how awful it was that one of the sponsor tables was empty, that there was no coffee, and where the orgy room was located. People were talking about sex alright- but not in the way that one might think.
I learned that none of the "rockstars" has a single minute to discuss something about their class with you without looking right the fuck through you searching for someone "more rockstarish" to talk with. I get it's also about networking, but hey- a moment to discuss something with someone you don't know? Isn't that what "teaching" is about?
I learned that once you reach a certain level of "rockstardom" in any field, including this one, you get a free pass to act like a total douchenozzle. Rules, personal space, self-control and accountability for actions all don't really matter when one is a presenter. I watched one person time and time and time and time again all weekend long, flaunt the rules, invade personal space, and ignore expressed no's. And the resulting silence from the rest of the people made it worse. I've no doubt this particular douchenozzle will continue on as before. But as a representative of your chosen field- he's a poor ambassador.
I learned that I should NEVER be in a situation where I say "I'll talk to someone" about something that happened and find out what's going on. There's no possible way that one won't bite me in the ass. I think next time I'll practice saying "if you can't talk about it yourself, then it's obviously not a problem".
But what I really learned is that despite my lack of savvy with this whole "sex positive" scene, despite my desire to be there for my friend, and despite my own best intentions to help her, my voice was ignored by someone I really cared for. I did not attend these conferences for me. But for the fact that she was my friend, I wouldn't have attended any but the very first. I wanted to help her. Be supportive of her, and hug her when things got nuts. Had I known that I'd be on the shit end of whatever stick was up everyone's ass that weekend, I'd have stayed home and read about the highlights on twitter.
After all, that's where I learned about the end of a really lovely friendship.