Thoughts on Woodhull and The Transgender Training Institute’s Training of Trainers

Today marks the one week anniversary of a journey into two conferences I never in a million years thought I would have had the balls to attend, much let alone participate actively.  From Thursday morning until Sunday evening, I spent my time in Alexandria, Virginia at the Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, and from Monday morning until Wednesday evening I was in Philadelphia for the Transgender Training Institute’s Training of Trainers.  Right now I am typing this blog entry fully aware that I will be taking breaks, maybe to get a cookie, maybe to switch a load of laundry (of which there are so many), maybe to watch an episode of Pokemon Indigo League on Netflix, or maybe just to cry.  It’s possible I may abandon this entry altogether, and it’s possible I may put it down for the evening when my partner comes home so I can spend some time with him as we have not seen each other in a week and have much to catch up on.

Avery’s cautious optimism – Day 1 Woodhull

I had so many ideas for directions in which I wanted this entry to go.  As my week progressed, I talked with my peers about how I wanted to write about my experience, each idea changing, refining into something not completely new or different but a lesson scaffolded onto another lesson.  Where the beginning of my week I focused quite bitterly on my sense of being outcast from a blogging community I had expected to welcome me with open arms, a community that treated me like the new kid on the block in not so nice ways, I also realized this was a community made up of individuals going through their own shit and experiencing a drastic change in social environment in their own ways as well.  I tried to empathize via messages I was learning about mental health through amazing workshops, but my own mental health and the difficulty I had processing a recent failed relationship with underpinnings of emotional abuse left me untrusting of those around me and suspicious of why people were not extending hands of support when I consistently asked for them, be it through social media, during audience participation, or outright face to face in hallway conversation.  I found myself feeling not welcome in blogger spaces, and grappled with how much of this was a projection of my own insecurities and how much was legitimate.  Had I been identified as the “needy new neurodivergent blogger with overambitious aspirations of making friends?”  Everyone seemed settled with their groups.  I felt invasive.

Fleeting negative thoughts were carefully mitigated with the positivity of a community I had known for years, friends and lovers I had known for decades, partners of partners, educational cohorts that have now become lovers, this huge mishmash of intersectional (in the least trivial sense of the word) eros that was aggressively unapologetic, forcing me under their wings.  I find myself crying right now thinking about my gratitude for a queerness of bodies and minds that didn’t just give me permission to join them, but danced with me until the day I walked back to my car, smelling them and feeling them and imagining their words and spirits and the grazes of their beard on my thighs and their giggles around the lube bottles I had tried gagging them with and the cupcakes I had licked off their fingers and the way their underwear rippled when I beat them gently and the beauty of their tattoos and the violence in their hand gestures as they spoke of the illusions in idolatry and the way pool water made their t-shirt float all around them and I thought GOD I WANT TO BE THAT T-SHIRT and I thought, “I love you people.”  I fucking love you people.

So much love.
So much love.

I was so proud to be a part of that brilliance.  I was so thrilled to share true magic, in all of its wooey exuberance, with my hematite in one hand and the possibility of failure in the other, and know that no matter where I ended up this week, I would fail beautifully and with people who were willing to help me.  I reaffirmed my beliefs in the humanness of wanting to be happy vicariously.  If I saw others crying, my heart hurt.  The stories I heard, the microaggression activities and other practices of facing transphobia during my TOT Conference, there was so much pain.  At one point my cohort, Emily Nagoski turned to me and said “You know what, Avery, I kinda like that you identify ‘punk’ as one of your genders.”  And I do.  I think I need that hardness.  Because if I spent all this time in my heart, in this empathy and in this affect, I’d fucking flounder.

Private queerspace play party at Woodhull!
Private queerspace play party at Woodhull!

So these two conferences taught me to feel.  They taught me that when I get defensive, I intellectualize, I overanalyze, I try to get into other people’s heads, I reflect on the past, I try to do exactly what I’m doing now.  I don’t feel because it’s a completely fucking vulnerable place.  Case in point: where I was in tears writing the paragraph about my experiences at Woodhull I was a sobbing mess.  Right now, I am dissociated to the point of disinterest, to the point of ending the entry and wondering why I wrote it in the first place.

Mental health wise, I am a person with Bipolar Disorder, Borderline Personality Disorder, and several instances of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  Sometimes these blend wonderfully to make me a hyperaware, feelings-sensitive, intelligent being who is very careful with my assumptions.   Sometimes the blends bring me to other places, some good, some great, some downright horrible.  I don’t have any complete or concluding verdicts to round up my experiences at Woodhull or the TOT to make this a digestible blog post.  I’ll probably revisit it and do quite a bit of editing and adding later on.  But something needed to be said.   Something deserved to be written.  It has been a powerful, emotionally exhausting, and life-changing week to the point where I’m not quite sure who I am right now (I thought today was Friday for a few hours).

IMG_9749
Second to last day at TOT, burnout imminent.

One final thing I want to say about Woodhull, though I’m not sure the order it should be included in this entry, but I wanted to put it in before I forget it, is how much the last week has taught me about the concept of status in the field of Sexuality.  Whether a blogger, educator, sex worker, activist, clinician, so much more that I feel partially terrible for marginalizing the “so much more” bit, you are important for whatever you do.  Not like I need to be the one validating your work, but still.  I saw so many “famous” and “well-known” people this week that were just fucking humans like everyone else.  I even feel a little guilty for name-dropping Emily Nagoski and am debating that redaction…going to sit on it for a bit and why I felt the need to include that.  I had so many great conversations with all of these “big names” this week and didn’t tweet them, didn’t tell anyone else about them, because I respected them for what they were, great conversations.  And I’m a little salty and a lot confused why celebrity has become a thing in the field of sexuality.  I get the whole giving creedence and respect.  I definitely agree with live tweeting hashtagging and giving proper citation for brilliant ideas being generated during workshops.  But when I see stuff like “OMG selfie with ___ look who I just met!”  I’m left with a really puzzled feeling.  I don’t really know what that feeling is, other than maybe fear of capitalist tendencies or going back to that status of not being the cool kid I discussed in the earlier parts of my blog, but it’s like, we’re all part of one community here.  One of the “celebs” I was hanging out with after Woodhull said they deliberately wore a hat the entire time because they wanted to avoid that kind of response, and I totally get it.  Like, maybe they’re here to learn, too?

I mean, my toy lineup from our play party made me semi-famous the morning after.
I mean, my toy lineup from our play party made me semi-famous the morning after.

When I went to the Transgender Training of Trainers, Dr. Green even said something along the lines of “Yeah, you can totally tell people you passed this course…you get a certificate, you know!  But you don’t have to go throwing my name around, even though technically it is my course!”  When you use the image of a celebrity, big name, well-established community figure, when you name-drop, what kind of agency are you taking from that person?  What kind of subalternity are you creating and in a community promoting sex-positivity; do we really want to get that gross about it?  To me, it just cheapens the whole idea.

Yes, I am super fucking proud of myself for pulling through this week.  I most definitely had a deep con-drop on Sunday night, collapsing on a dear friends chaise lounger in the dark and calling my partner in Jersey on the phone crying, “I can’t do the next three days, I don’t even have the energy to shower.”  But I fucking pulled my shit together, I smelted one last spoon, and I held my own during this training.  So yeah, I’m going to toot my own horn.  I’m going to be confident for the first time in a long fucking time and say, “Not only did I do the thing, but I did the thing FUCKING WELL!”

So thank you to Woodhull and TOT for helping me feel all the feels, and to reduce my temptation to get Butlerian with this entry and to let it come from my heart.

/mic drop

  • I don’t know you nearly well enough, and that’s on me. I have limited time to spend on social media ever since my full time job and I tend to interact more with people who already interact with me, and that’s how some of my introversion works. Like at Woodhull I so often wanted to say something to someone but I did not. I wanted to compliment your punky-90s-ish outfit at that session on Friday but…. I find it hard to speak to people I don’t already know well because I don’t know how they feel about me and I don’t know if my “I say things in a weird way and it’s sometimes unintentionally offensive” character flaw will come out. It’s a weird dichotomy. I’m weird. Here’s the thing: Even though we all look comfortable with each other (and we are in certain configurations) we’re all anxious and awkward, too. A lot of us are assuming people dislike us, but then there’s those few people we already know and feel “safe” with. But we’re not doing enough, and you’ve made us all think.

    I’m pretty terrible at making words some days so my apologies if any of this comes off badly. I spent a few years feeling just like you (back when there were these “blogger calendar parties” in NYC) and I hid, I stood on the outskirts, I waited for engraved invitations for conversations….and it never worked in my favor. I’m kinda dense so next year, you grab me and say “Lilly, can you please introduce me?” and then take refuge in the blogger lounge. You do belong there.

    • The Palimpsex

      aaaand right in the gut. this hit hard. thank you so much for all of this. i don’t quite know how to respond other than with a warm smile and softened eyes that you can’t see, but there is gratitude and there is hope. i think time and processing, plus some more opportunities to get to know each other in various spheres will help foster some better connections. honest thanks for reaching out with this comment, lilly.

      best,
      avery

    • The Palimpsex

      PS i really like your “i say things in a weird way and it’s sometimes unintentionally offensive” character ASSET.