Saturday, August 22, 2015

Table Talk

OK, my presentation for today was over, questions and answers lingering as several of us walked to the elevator and ultimately to lunch. One of the women kept with me, several points left that she wanted to make. Flattering! Somebody was interested beyond the hour (plus 10 minutes) on the topic.

Her point at the moment was some positive feedback on my making the point I had about wardrobe as part of our non-verbal communication. I had stated that if we show a lot of cleavage, a lot of thigh, do the whole big makeup thing, we will be seen as "sexy" and while perhaps being drooled over, we will be discounted as people, particularly people of value. Being the activists the attendees are, we're trying to be perceived as the kind of people who have things to say worth listening to. I gave the Hillary Clinton pant suit as an example of wardrobe choice that tells others we mean business, have status, and come with something to say. What my participant particularly resonated with was when I stressed that it didn't matter whether it should be this way. We needed to realize that this is how it is.

My knees being what they are, I interjected that I needed to sit down at the nearest table while we continued the conversation. One by one, we collected a full table of folks as they filtered back to the main hall after their workshops ended.

The first to join us apparently knew the one who had been talking to me from previous encounters at the conference. They started right in on the "do you know _____ (from your area, in your field of activism)?" As they went on, I suddenly realized that the woman who had joined us was trans, and active in that field.

OK, suddenly the table just got really interesting, a place to stay and listen rather than a resting point on the way to lunch. I also took the opportunity to subtly look her over and see if there were any cues I'd missed, visual or otherwise, to tell me she had once been other than just who I'd initially assumed she was. I plead ignorance: to my knowledge, I have never met a trans person of either gender. Till now. Should I have noticed something which in the future could help me keep my foot out of my mouth?

Nope. She was, quite simply, just another woman at the conference, albeit with a unique slant on some of the issues. Or, maybe, not all that unique. I could be referring to my inability to challenge her self-professed identity, not that I'd be so inclined, but as it turned out, I was following the conversation where several of us for various reasons had experienced going out and finding a different doctor who met our specific needs and medical philosophies better.

Heck, for a while I entertained myself at the notion that even my parents would have been perfectly at home in that conversation, as much as they discussed medical stuff. Well, at home for a while, anyway.

The next woman who joined us had much to say about the negative aspects of adoption. That came out of a comment about religion in hospitals and how it affects decisions like dealing with unwanted pregnancies. No, adoption wasn't the obvious "good" alternative to abortion, and she raised many points out of her personal experience as an adoptee. A closed adoption prevented her from researching medical issues, including vital ones affecting her kids which may have a genetic link. Also, she had the luck - you decide which kind - to have religious parents who kept reminding her how grateful she should feel because "you could have been aborted." Discussion morphed into ones around foster care, parental rights, the market value around the world of different classes of adoptable children, including race, nationality, age, gender, health.

Her comment about a vacation to visit her family who now lived in Alaska led to a variety of travel talk. Did you see...? How did you get to ...? How long did you take to go ...? Topics ranged from one woman who rode her motorcycle to the conference over three days, coming from one of the Carolinas, and how her route and schedule were affected by weather, to the color of grizzlies in Alaska, to the grandchildren of Sara Palin and how much shaming is coming the family's way from the religious Right.

Lunch was served, and when we returned to the table we were joined by yet another woman who started a conversation on pros, cons, and varieties of home schooling, who had done it and why. There are even geographic differences in what kind of home schools are developed. Here in Minnesota the vast majority are started for religious reasons, particularly by parents who think there is not enough religious instruction in the curriculum. In southern states, at least as represented by the women around the table, more home schools  are started to get away from religious curriculum in the schools, including its incursion into the sciences.

And so it went, topic to topic, different slants on them depending on whom you listened to. Now, Steph, I do not in any way belittle all the work, planning, organization, and what-all that you put into making this conference work. And not just because I was/will be a part of the program. But the table talk may well have been the best part of it!


hunakai said...

Love it! This is what happens when you gather a group of chatty women who've experienced a bit of life. Likewise our book club spends more time on updates and commentary than on the actual book discussion. Fun times.

Stephanie Zvan said...

Oh, no, no. A shared lunch was always going to be one of the most important parts of the conference as long as we could figure out how to afford it. I underestimated exactly how important, but I knew it would be big.