When I started writing this it was going to be about all the things OpenCon taught me, but I’ve decided put that in a separate post. I started writing some of the things out, and it got quite personal! So I felt like it belonged in a different post, as it had a very different tone to it. So this shall just be about my observations of my experience.
OpenCon has a very deliberate safeness about it. Everyone goes on about what we can do to make people feel the most comfortable and safe in the environment. And it wasn’t until I left that safe space that I realised how completely absent that kind of environment is in, what I suppose you would call, “normal society”. For the first time in my life I was able to stand at the edge of a room of people dancing without feeling like I was expected to join in whether I wanted to or not*. It was also apparent when I realised that I’d been speaking up in pretty much every workshop I went to. I worry a lot about putting my foot in it, especially around so many people I respect, so the fact that I felt so free and confident to be able to do so was really a testament to how well everyone involved went about things**. Everyone was given a chance to have their voice heard (quite literally). And I think leaving that environment and going back to normalcy may have been largely what people were referring to when they spoke about getting a “comedown” from OpenCon. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if we could live in such a safe space 24/7?
It was also really wonderful being surrounded by so many critical thinkers! Being around people who think as deeply as I do is usually a rare thing, so it was really validating to be in a crowd like that. And very reassuring when I watched people shimmer their hands*** at my words in workshops. But anyway! Critical thinkers! It was really amazing that in the very first workshop**** we were already discussing the things we might be doing as a community that are inadvertently oppressing some of its members. Not once did I hear the phrase “if it’s not broke don’t fix it”. The fact that we, as a community, seem to be very willing to question our own beliefs and examine ourselves is very reassuring to me, and makes me proud to be part of it. And after OpenCon I feel much more part of the community than I ever did before, that’s probably the main thing I took away from the weekend in fact.
One of the workshops I went to was called “women flirting with women”. I did sort of feel like maybe I shouldn’t have been there since I don’t really experience the same problems as the other women who attended. But I thought it might be fun to share experiences with other women! I did enjoy it, and it was a little weird, but it was definitely a memorable experience. It was focussed on getting women to be a little more bold, and to actually make a move sometimes. And as a woman who rather likes getting hit on, I’m all for this! Upon reflection though, I became slightly concerned that maybe in its effort to empower – it may have negated some important things about reading negative signals. There was no “how to tell if she’s just not that into you” and how to take rejection gracefully. As someone who likes to chat up women – I find that’s pretty important. For example, in the workshop we were split up into groups of three; all taking turns to flirt, be flirted with, and observe. In the instance where I was being flirted with I had quite a surreal experience: Even though she was giving me clear flirting signs (duh, that was the point of the exercise), when I flirted back a little I picked up on some very subtle hints that, actually, she wasn’t interested in me. I think protecting yourself from those little rejections and learning that they mean nothing is important in being a confident flirter. So it would have been good to have more of that I think. But I totally get what they were trying to do in this workshop, and it’s really admirable, perhaps talking about rejection too much in that workshop would have felt really negative and been counterproductive in giving women more confidence when they really need it.
I had one suggestion to add based on my experience there, so I may as well include that here: I think it would have been useful to have some hand gestures introduced in the “welcoming” talk so that we could use them throughout the weekend in the workshops. Things like “on that point” would have been particularly useful, especially in the larger workshops as it’s harder to let everyone speak in those.
All in all, it was a really great experience. I’m really glad that we were able to go in the end! I feel a lot closer to the community now, and perhaps for the first time ever like I belong somewhere. It sort of feels like a new chapter of Tess.
* I love watching people dance, not so much dancing myself… maybe that will change, maybe it won’t, but it really bugs me when I’m expected to love it as much as Everyone Else™.
** Especially compared to PolyDay for example, where it was much harder to have your say (probably because there were just so many people) and the conversation was often dominated by the loudest members.
*** By this I mean the signal people make when they mean “I agree”
**** That was Meg Barker’s talk on her book “Re-writing the rules” which was absolutely outstanding, and gave us all stuff to think about and discuss among ourselves for the whole weekend. Including some new language and even a few in jokes! (It’s crab buckets all the way down!!!)