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.