July 2004


SMYHL Review

At the closing session of the SMYHL (Sexual Minority Youth in the Heartland) conference, several of the panelists suggested that we write stories about our experiences in order to share them. There was then the brilliant idea that we could email them to a central email address and that some how they will be shared.

I’m not emailing this to the central registry, however, I trust that at least one, if not two, people who were at the conference will find this page and leave their comments behind, and may share the page with others who were at the conference.

I won’t be proactively sharing this page because although I learned a lot from the conference, I wasn’t completely happy with it, and I can guess that what is going to come out on this blog entry is a lot of complaining rather than the positive experience I actually had.

In other words, I will probably write more about the things I was less happy about than the things I was thrilled about-but that’s the nature of the beast.

One of my chief complaints about conferences like this one is the excessive touchy-feely aspect to it. Because of my sleep depravation I didn’t make it to the program until a few minutes after 7pm on Friday evening, just in time to have missed the explanation for the Theatre of the Oppressed-at least that’s what I thought it was called, in the program it was called the “Interactive Theater Forum” facilitated by Diane Kondrat. Our first exercise was to keep moving around the room making the space as full as possible.

I loosed my belt buckle and generally made myself as fat as possible: had everybody else taken the same approach there probably would have been less space in the room. As it was, people moved around and not much was accomplished: at least from my perspective. We did another one or two of these exercises before we settled down to the big game where we made pictures using live people as models. (As we were preparing, we were told that in some parts of the world this is utilized in the legislative process.)

In the big game, a director would take audience members and have them pose in a way that created oppressors and victims. I watched a couple of these, and then was chosen by somebody to participate in a picture. I was one of the oppressors and in my role I was pulling on a girl who was being pulled on from the other direction. I got to wear a fierce expression on my face.

After posing for a few minutes and starting to get a cramp in my leg, I was directed to the resolved situation where nobody was being oppressed. In this scenario, I was either holding a prayer book and praying or I was waiting for somebody to put something in my hands. I have no idea what exactly was going on.

We returned to our oppressive picture, the facilitator started babbling and I stopped listening, so when I suddenly heard that I was supposed to move on the count of three, I moved randomly.

That’s right, there wasn’t really significance to my motions, yet there were murmurs from all over the room about how wonderful and symbolic it was.

The only reason I can figure that I got selected to be in the picture was because I was wearing one of my Andrew Christian shirts that had a cross on it-not the Christian cross mind you, but a variant on the cross you have for the Red Cross, just not red.

I skipped out on the youth speak out because of my total and utter exhaustion, was sound asleep by 10, and got up Saturday morning. I skipped the first session for no legitimate reason, other than I didn’t want to be at the IMU all day.

The first breakout session I attended was “‘On the Downlow’ as an Expression of the African American Self.” This was extremely interesting to me-the phrase refers to the idea that men will have sex with other men, but not tell anybody about it, that is to say be on the “downlow.” I am probably missing some of the nuances, but I fond the discussion entrancing and engaging. What it came down to was the idea that African-American men don’t want to identify as gay because they risk losing their families. Evidently in white culture the notion of individuality is much stronger than among African-Americans, in addition the effect of religion is much greater within the African-American community than in the white community.

I tried to dovetail a question onto another participants question, asking if it was possible for women to be on the downlow. The answer was yes, but that men’s identities are wrapped up in their penises. Suffice it to say that my question involved a lot of discussion of penises and the other question got lost until I brought it back into focus.

The second breakout session I attended was entitled “It Matters That You’re White: Exploring White Culture and Privilege.” This was a rather unusual session in that the automatic assumption was that every white individual is racist and from there we went to discussions of how white privilege (primary source?) affects our lives. The discussion was, in general, awesome, but sometimes, I fear, people assign the cause of problems to racism rather than more legitimate reasons.

For example, one person talked about how they, as a white person, were able to organize a conference and not be worried, while one of his minority colleagues had a lot of problems organizing a conference. However, the differences were not due to racism, as assigned in the session, but perhaps due to experience. The first time I ever organized a conference I went insane. The second time was a much easier experience. Experience makes a difference.

The one thing that I was left wondering about, as a soon to be global citizen, was how does this play in non-US settings? Is there a German privilege? I know that Germans have a reputation for not trusting members of their Turkish minority. How will my American status play in Weimar? My non-existent German skills are certainly going to come back to haunt me.

More on the conference later.

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