Wednesday, March 02, 2011

The queers are here... and they are ready to dialogue!

I have just arrived in San Francisco for the Expanding the Circle conference, a specialized conference on LGBTQ issues in higher education. The multidisciplinary conference, which starts tomorrow, covers many topics dear to my heart, including making universities more welcoming to LGBTQ students, faculty, and staff; religion and spirituality in queer communities; and queering the curriculum. Plenary speakers include folks from Queers for Economic Justice, the National Sexuality Resource Center, and feminist writer and activist Judy Grahn.

I am excited to be surrounded by so many queer folks. In fact, in the lobby when I was checking in, there were queers everywhere! Now, it may seem silly to write this in San Francisco, a city that is often considered the queer mecca. (At least, it was at one time, before towns in most states all over the country starting developing into their state's queer magnet: Durham, NC; Amherst, MA; Atlanta, GA; Seattle, WA, etc., I am talking to you!)... But there is something about going to a "boutique" queer conference in an actual boutique hotel that is intoxicating. Nothing like being surrounded by effete nancy boys, butch academic dykes, and the full range of gender/class/race/ethnicity at play.* And the damn thing hasn't started yet!

I am looking forward to meeting the other attendees and hearing the presentations. I really don't want to skip anything; there is at least one session during each time frame that is interesting to me! I haven't been able to say that at a conference in my discipline for ages. And with an attendance of 150-200 people, I am hopeful about to getting to know a number of folks here.

I have only attended a few LGBT-focused conferences in my time as an academic, and each brought with it the heady opportunity to meet and hear from the famous academic queers of the time. The first multidiscplinary/queer studies conference I attended was during my student days, and it was a blast. I couldn't afford to fly, so I drove across the country with someone I met online (to share expenses), stayed with a local grad student, and bought fast food and snacks to save on cash. I still remember the excitement of hearing famous scholars presenting at the height of their (early) fame:
  • Judith Butler (incredibly smart, well-spoken, and she had great (defined) arms; she reminded me a little bit of a bartender in an old-fashioned dyke bar, which some of you will understand is a compliment, especially coming from someone who was a serious baby-dyke at the time)
  • Michael Berube (smart and funny) 
The idea that I got to present my little paper at the same conference was amazing to me. I attended another small gathering hosted by CUNY's CLAGS program about the future of LGBT studies. There I got to hear from and speak with:
  • Amber Hollibaugh (well-spoken and quite a presence, but she didn't look as I had imagined)
  • John D'Emilio (very low key, funny, and smart)
  • Ellen Lewin (old guard at this point, she was a very cool customer in facing what I considered immature castigation of women's studies)
Looking back, I am still struck by two stories: (1) D'Emilio talked about running in a marathon to bring in money for the LGBT studies program; you gotta respect that. (2) Several faculty discussed strategies to get offer LGBT-related courses. Suggestions included putting anything "queer" after the colon, so it wouldn't show in students' transcripts; getting all the queer students to sign up for a class and drop it late, so the course would make, even with a small number of students. It was kinda sad.

There don't seem to be so many queer conferences these days, especially multidisciplinary ones, so I am treasuring this experience. I hope it lives up to my expectations. And who know who I will see? I don't think I will be as star-struck as I used to be, but it is always strange to meet someone who you know only by their academic work. I can see myself thinking, "Ah, so you are Herdt, G."

I, of course, will not be out as Lesboprof to any of the other folks at the conference, but if anyone who reads this is here for the conference, I am always up for a nightcap or a cup of coffee. Drop me an email at and perhaps we can meet IRL!

Whistles as I get ready to meet a famous lesbian colleague for dinner on the town.

* Yes, that was a gratuitous Judith Butler reference. What can I say? I am trying to get in the queer studies frame of mind.


Anonymous said...

Just to be clear, as an MA resident, I would say Ptown (Provincetown) is our mecca, not Amherst.

Lesboprof said...

I hear you about Ptown. My first visit to a Women's weekend in Ptown was amazing, and I have never forgotten my time there.