Undressing Normal Again

2013undressingnormalDue to the success of last year’s event, we have decided to do it again! The 2013 Undressing Normal Unconference will be held March 29.

Please join us for a series of discussions on sexuality and people who are considered to have disabilities. The unconference will take place at the Clarion on Newtown Pike in Lexington Kentucky. We will start at 10:00 AM on Friday, March 29, and will leave by 4:00 PM with a set of action plans for improving the lives of LGBTQ and straight people who have often been denied opportunities to fully express their humanity.

This will be a participant-driven meeting with no preconceived agenda. Please plan to bring your own topic relevant to disability and sexuality. This blog contains information and links about using the unconference format.

This year’s sponsors include UK/HDI, Latitude Arts, Barrowman Case Management, Kentucky Protection and Advocacy, No Boundaries, and Kentucky Self Advocates for Freedom.

Artists are  invited to bring work to display at the event. Details regarding how to submit art will be posted here soon.

Register for the unconference here.  The registration fee for the unconference is $10, and scholarships are available.

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Welcome to Undressing Normal

This is the blog for an upcoming unconference on the range of human sexualities and abilities. We welcome all people and acknowledge that whatever your orientation and/or disability labels are, you are well within the range of human normality. Our focus will be on minority sexualities and gender identities within the context of services to persons who are considered by some to have disabilities. The creators of the unconference have a particular interest in the rights of people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities, as well as those who work to support them. We seek to create a welcoming community for all lesbian, gay, transgender, bisexual, assexual, queer, questioning, straight, and other people to discuss issues of concern.

The unconference will take place February 10, 2012, at the Clarion Hotel at 1950 Newtown Pike in Lexington Kentucky. Registration information and further details will be posted here as they become available.

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Session Notes


Session notes are now available! Please visit the Session Notes page to view summaries of Undressing Normal discussions. A tab has been added at the top of this page for permanent access. Please add your own thoughts to the notes. If you attended a session that does not have notes posted, please consider writing a brief summary to post here. This blog can be used to continue our conversations; your participation is appreciated.

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Undressing Normal (Un)conference: A brief summary

Undressing Normal, an (Un)conference on Sexuality for Those of Us Dislabeled, was held at the Clarion Hotel in Lexington, KY on Friday, February 10. Seventy people attended, including an excellent cross-section of people with disabilities, support staff, agency directors, policy makers, educators, students and others. Participants came from across the state to discuss topics of interest.

Bev and Squawkers had a few words to say.

In contrast to a typical conference, participants were responsible for creating the day’s agenda. After a brief opening talk and instructions on “How to Unconference,” attendees were directed to a blank wall awaiting topics. Papers and markers were made available, and everyone had an equal opportunity to direct the day’s process and outcomes. Spaces representing the five available rooms and three time slots filled in quickly. A few similar topics were combined, and we were ready to start well before the time allowed for agenda creation was over.

Participants creating their agenda topics.

These were the topics selected by (un)conference participants:

  •  Rights of LGBT Residents in Long Term Care
  •  Boundaries and Parameters of Guardians and Families Concerning Issues of Sexuality: Who Has the Right?
  • Violence and Abuse/Concerns: Who is Supporting People with Disabilities after Sexual Assault
  • Autism and Sexuality
  • Supporting LGBT Staff and Caregivers
  • Helping Parents Accept Their Son or Daughter’s Gender Identity/Recognizing a Person as a Sexual Being
  • How to Find a Boyfriend or Girlfriend
  • People with Disabilities Accessing Porn and Adult Entertainment Industries
  • Sexual/Reproductive Healthcare Advocacy
  • Addressing Disability and Sexuality in Schools
  • Supporting LGBTQ People with Disabilities who are Interested in Engaging in Sex
  • Issues with Using Restrooms While Transitioning
  • Housing, Marriage, Finances, and Independent Living

    With the agenda finished, Jeff and Shevawn directed participants to the meeting rooms.

Over the next couple of weeks, we will be posting reports of highlights from each session. Please feel free to continue these discussions in the comments here. This blog can serve as a place to add information, review action plans, and monitor our progress in addressing the issues presented. If you presented or attended a session at Undressing Normal and would like to include a full post about it here, contact me at bevharp64@gmail.com. Your participation is welcome and will benefit all of us.

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Final day to register!

Today is the last day to register for this Friday’s (Un)conference, Undressing Normal. If you would like to attend, please register now at https://undressingnormal.wordpress.com/register-for-the-unconference/

For late registration, you will need to email bevharp64@gmail.com and I will let you know if there are any spaces remaining.

I am looking forward to seeing everyone on Friday, February 10!



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The (Un)conference starts here!

This is the space where, were this a traditional conference, you would find an agenda, the names of presenters and descriptions of their sessions. We don’t have any of that stuff. All we have is you and the other people who might attend and your ideas and concerns and opinions and experience, and a growing list of resources linked in the sidebar.

This blog is a part of the Undressing Normal (Un)conference. We can start anytime to discuss the issues that we will further investigate on February 10. We can continue to update each other here after the conference. I’ve listed a few possible topics here, but I know there are many more things we will want to consider. What are your thoughts?

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What difference will it make?

Have you ever attended a conference or meeting and found yourself energized by the ideas in circulation or the potential for finding solutions to longstanding problems? Have you ever left such an event determined to use information gained there to facilitate change? Have you shared your enthusiasm with colleagues in the days that followed? A month or two later, did you remember what the meeting was about or why it moved you?

Too often, I have left an event, taking away renewed energy, vision, and hope, but with no clear action plan. Without a plan to create change, it is unlikely to happen. There are too many things in the world needing attention! In the rush to meet so many responsibilities, the new ideas are sometimes relegated to the bottom of the pile.

This is why the final session of the (Un)conference will be of great importance. Here, we will bring our notes from each breakout session and share what we have learned with those who attended other sessions. We will identify common themes and review suggestions made. We will create a plan of action that will include goals, objectives, and a timeline. Participants will take responsibility for actions based on their own interests, abilities, and access to resources.

Notes from all sessions will be posted here for further discussion, and goals will be tracked on this site as well. In these ways, we will continue to talk to each other about these important issues long after the day of Undressing Normal.

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Building a session: Example one

If you don’t have experience presenting or leading or even attending conference sessions, you may be wondering what your participation will look like. Don’t worry, no one will be required to present anything. Think of this more as a series of semi-structured conversations. Here is an example of how I might plan a session for Undressing Normal.

First of all, I ask myself why I am involved in this at all. The reasons are personal, professional, and political. I am autistic and queer. I work with people with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. I am dissatisfied with the current state of affairs. For example, I know a woman who lived in a group home. Her computer and car keys were taken away from her because she interacted with men in ways that were not approved by the agency. She is 30 years old. She was told she had to ask permission to go on a date. I know a woman with a disability whose parents told her she would only be able to date a man with a disability, that there were no other options. I know a man who feels life is barely worth living because he is convinced he will never have a sexual relationship. I know two men who were told they were not gay but “confused” and were forbidden to see one another.  

I want to let people know what this feels like, to be considered incapable of love or less than fully human. But I am one of the lucky ones. I don’t know, not really. So I think about asking the woman, the woman, the man, the man that I know to attend the unconference. I think about others in similar situations. Invite them. Done. Done. I think about how to arrange for them to get there without calling attention in ways that might make their lives any worse. This is more difficult.

Back to my own session, the one I most likely will not be leading because my hope for this event is that so many people will come, full of ideas and emotion, that my role will be to facilitate, not to present. Just in case, I need to plan for the session.

I have a title. I thought of it while writing this post.

Autistic and Queer: Growing up Other

I spend a lot of time thinking about “othering.” I know what it means to be viewed as different, to view myself as different, to be treated, sometimes, as a freak. I want to talk about the intersection between queer and disabled, how these othered parts of an identity can interact, how a positive self-awareness can emerge despite or in conjunction with any labels that have been applied. I want to talk about surviving.

Now that I have an idea what I want to talk about, I will need to decide what type of session I want to present. I check out some of the examples here  and here and decide I like the UnPanel and World Café ideas. I will probably pick one of these if enough participants come to my session. It looks like the Unpanel would need at least 12 participants; the World Café might work best with 15 or more. At an unconference, there is always the possibility that the groups will be smaller, though. If only 3 or 4 people come to the session, we can still have a roundtable discussion, but I will need to be prepared to introduce the topic with a 5 or 10 minute talk.

The next step will be to come up with specific questions to get people talking. This is how I am othered, what it means to me, how it has both limited and empowered me. How have you been othered? What groups do you belong to? Where do you feel excluded? How do you stake your claim to an identity that is discounted by much of society? What should we be doing to create a more inclusive community? What are some of the barriers?

This could go in a lot of different directions, depending on who shows up and how open we are all willing to be. The plan is a work in progress, and will change many times before and probably (hopefully) during the session.

Rule 2 of Open Space:  Whatever happens is what could happen. Attendees should not try to steer a conversation just because it’s veering off topic. People will talk about what needs to be talked about.

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LGBT Elders and Long Term Care

In thinking about sexuality among people with disabilities it’s important to consider all sexual orientations. It’s often assumed the disabled, elderly, and the very young are heterosexual. For service providers and families this heterosexist attitude can remain intact until it is unexpectedly challenged such as when a grandfather comes out of the closet after a long life of marriage, and raising his family.

Among gay elders entering nursing homes, exists a fear of being forced back into the closet. Many are concerned they will be harassed, taunted or neglected. In a recent survey of residents, staff, ombudsmen, and family members, authors of LGBT Older Adults in Long Term Care Facilities: Stories from the Field reports that of 278 gay elders 78% of them felt they could not be open about their sexual orientation when in a nursing home.

This story illustrates the theme of many comments:
Two friends of mine, Vera and Zayda, had been together for 58 years. When Vera’s Alzheimer’s became too much, Zayda moved her to an assisted living facility. Zayda could barely trust family or neighbors with the truth, let alone strangers, so she and Vera became “sisters.” Much later, after Vera’s death, Zayda needed to move into an assisted living facility herself. She had many, many photos of the love of her life, but dared not display them in her new home. The other residents would talk about husbands, children and grandchildren, but she felt too vulnerable to tell the truth. Zayda was in hiding and terribly isolated. —Nina L., Carlsbad, CA

As our elder population grows, more and more gay men and women will be seeking aging services. It is the responsibility of service providers to become competent in the culture, needs, fears and desires of gay men and women. This is not an issue we want to be behind the curve on.

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Preparing for the (Un)conference: Introduction to Open Space

The agenda is a blank wall. The ideal participants are whichever people show up. No one, including the event organizer, knows exactly what will be discussed or who will lead sessions. This is not the typical conference, but something called an unconference, and at the heart of the event is Open Space Technology. 

In brief, we will gather in a large room. Everyone will come with his or her own ideas and concerns about sexuality and disability.  Paper will be provided. We will take our ideas and make session titles from them. We will tape them to the wall. We will sort them out, perhaps combining similar topics, negotiating time slots and breakout rooms. People will sign up for the sessions in which they want to participate. All of this will happen in morning, and in the afternoon, we will go to the breakout rooms we have chosen, or change our minds and go to other sessions. At the end of the day, we will come back together and talk as a group. Throughout the process, there will be one or more experienced leaders to help us whenever confusion erupts. 

There is a structure supporting what at times may appear to be chaos.

From Introduction to Open Space Technology by Kaliya Hamlin:

Open Space Technology is an approach to facilitate convenings described by the following characteristics:

  • high levels of complexity
  • high potential or actual conflict
  • high levels of diversity
  • a decision time of yesterday

Please view the slide show to get a general idea what will happen during the unconference.

Do you have questions or concerns about the process? Have you ever attended an unconference? We would love to discuss these topics and others of interest to anyone thinking about attending the Undressing Normal (Un)conference. Please leave your thoughts in the comments here.

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Preparing for the (Un)conference: The basics of unconferencing

Maybe you are interested in our general topic, but wary of the unconference format. You want to know what will be expected of you and what information or materials you might need to bring. Or you wonder how in the world we can have a successful event without a lot of advance planning or even an agenda. Here are a few tips to help you become familiar with the concept of an unconference.

  1. A great way to start learning the basics is to read this short document, titled Unconferencing, by Kayila Hamlin.
  2. Now that you have read about a few of the types of sessions, you might be interested in learning more specifics about the types of methods that might be used. Check out this page at unconference.net. Here you will find lots of creative ideas for sessions, as well as a description of Open Space technology, which we will use to get things started.
  3. Think about the topics listed here. Think about your own interests and experiences. If you could decide the agenda for a conference on sexuality and disability, what would you most like to see discussed? This will be your opportunity to make it happen!
  4. Now go back to the Methods page and think about how you might like to present your topic. You will not be required to lead a session, but you will have the opportunity if you want it. What techniques might you use to get a conversation started around what you see as most important? Get more ideas by exploring our Links to Unconference Information in the sidebar.
  5. Attend the unconference! Don’t forget to register.
  6. Do you have more questions about how this will work? Please leave them in the comments here so we can have a conversation about it!
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