No Fancy Name
Wednesday, August 02, 2006
blogher: on uncomfortable heteronormativity
[edited to add: here are links to all my BlogHer posts]

Before I start rambling on this topic, you (dear reader) should be aware that I am writing waaaay out of my comfort zone. In life, and in literary studies, you won't find me talking about gender theory or queer theory—not because I don't appreciate the theoretical perspectives/frameworks, it's just my brain isn't wired to think within them. In fact, it's a running joke among some of my school chums who, on feminist/queer/gender theory day in litcrit class, all turned to me to start the discussion. "Why me?" I said to them, "I'm the worst lesbian ever. I don't even like Gertrude Stein. And I swore off girls like four years ago."

So, when I was thinking about the conference and feeling a little uneasy about some things, and the only word I could think of to describe my uneasiness was "heteronormative," I was shocked because I just don't think in those terms. I try to float through life being myself in a diverse crowd. I like having fellows around (provided they're intelligent, respectful, and good folk) and I like having women around (provided they're intelligent, respectful, and good folk). I don't like or dislike people just because they're female or queer or transgender or male or colorful or however they identify (or don't). I don't choose to spend time with people because they do or do not have kids. It's hard enough to find intelligent, respectful, good folk in this world—everything else is ancillary.

I spent all of my time at the conference with just those kinds of people—intelligent, respectful, good folk. Three edubloggers, who happened also to be moms, were in my primary crew. In the edublogging session, we had no less than three men—each lovely—and a range of single/married/straight/gay/moms/childfree people. But that info wasn't relevant, and it wasn't something I dwelled upon or even noticed at all. In the four hours of drinking and talking at the end of Day 2, my table contained the aforementioned primary crew, plus a revolving door of entirely non-heteronormative folks. Again, I didn't even think about it.

So what's the deal, you ask? Why "uncomfortable heteronormativity?"

Because I completely failed to notice that from the outside looking in, it was a conference of straight white moms. Wait, WAIT, WAIT!—just hang with me for a minute, because I'm not anti the straight white mom at all. Seriously. I have one. But think of the people on the outside looking in—newbies to the conference, newbies to the medium, and/or members of typically marginalized groups. When you're on the outside looking in, you see nothing but the majority.

Last year, the conference was half the size. It had a significantly greater grassroots/"do"-ocracy feel. The individual groups of bloggers—inasmuch as people self-identified with a group—were all small. There was no overabundance of any one type of blogger besides "enthusiastic" or "new(ish)". Some of the most widely-regarded panelists (the lovely and talented Koan Bremner for instance) put a decidedly non-heteronormative stamp on the whole thing.

Then a crazy thing happened—people got excited and the whole thing grew. The appearance, en masse, of mommybloggers at the conference has everything to do with the good things that happened in the mommyblogging "room of your own" session at BlogHer05, and the desire to repeat that—and I think they did. That's awesome. That's exactly what was supposed to happen. Similarly, as Maria Niles said in a comment to a post by Christie Keith, the "Identity and Obligation" panel grew out of the Brown Bloggers "room of your own" session the previous year. Again, that's a success story.

So when, by Day 2, I start feeling an undercurrent of "hey, I'm not a mom/I'm not heterosexual/I'm not white/I'm totally new to this"—and if you pay attention to the recent "introduce yourself" posts from folks who have joined the BlogHer site you'll see more than a few that say things like "I don't think I fit in here because I'm not a mom/I'm not heterosexual/I'm not white/I'm totally new"—then I become uncomfortable because I don't like other people to be uncomfortable, especially because I could have done something about it. I could have volunteered a question at a session or keynote in order to balance things out. I could have made a BOF signup for "freaks without a BOF" or something of that nature. I could have made it a point to seek out newbies in all my funny-looking glory. But I was doing my own thing. I was selfish (and I'm shy, which I kept telling Geeky Mom but she doesn't believe me) and had my own (non-)agenda, which was to kick it with people I already knew. That's not inclusive, it's not helpful, and it's an attitude that, when shared by many, is far worse than the commercialism or presence of a gazillion people who blog about their kids.

Basically, I'm of the opinion that the heterosexuals didn't make this conference heteronormative—the non-heterosexuals did, especially those of use who actually knew we could change something because the structure of the conference allowed us to, by not stepping up and trying to ensure an inclusive environment. In this case, at a "do"-ocracy-based conference, the responsibility lies only within; no one stopped the non-heterosexual group from being as visible as the mommybloggers or the I-want-to-monetize-the-crap-out-of-my-blog bloggers or any other group who did have a presence. In Koan's words, we did "the square root of bugger all." So, the "uncomfortable heteronormativity" is my own internal discomfort at, basically, supporting the patriarchy and making people in my own group feel crappy about it.

Gah. I'm gonna get my toaster oven taken away, I'm sure.

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