It’s been ten days now since I went to Kink For All New York City, the first of what will hopefully be a series of sexuality-related “unconferences” run along an open-source, democratic model. Basically, KFANYC was a conference—a vehicle for members of the various sexuality communities in New York to come together, talk, and learn from each other. Quite a lot of people presented about quite a lot of different things, sometimes simultaneously, so I wasn’t able to see everything. I chose to attend, in particular, presentations which focused on the younger generation of sexuality activists (like myself!) and on addressing questions about defining identity, coming out, and how all this gets worked out in an increasingly technologically networked and therefore public arena. My own presentation, which I titled “The Politicization of the Closet,” dealt with similar issues, raising questions about when it is necessary to come out and whether one must do so to be an activist. (pdf of my notes, if you’re curious what I said. There’s an audio recording too, but I’m a little too embarrassed by how I sound on recordings to link to it).
That’s all a serious reduction/abridgement of what actually went on at KFANYC on March 8, 2009. But, given that this is both a personal blog and a vaguely academic-oriented blog, I do want to mention what I found most personally rewarding about the unconference. I’ve been to conferences before, sure, but this was my first time presenting, my first time “giving a talk.” As someone so steeped in academic culture, this was kind of an important milestone for me. My parents and most other adults I know have been giving talks at conferences all my life, and doing the same was a big indication to me that I’m becoming an adult. The fact that the talk was by no means a failure also suggested to me that it’s something I can do, and that in 10 years’ time I’ll be able to do the same thing at a conference in my academic discipline, or indeed to teach a class.
But perhaps I overstress the academic aspect of KFANYC’s relevance to me, because I think that a lot of what was exciting about it is the way that the format combines academic and non-academic modes of talking about sex and sexuality. The “conference” is an academic model in a way that many existing modes of social interaction for sexuality groups aren’t, but this conference didn’t presume any academic background or qualifications and didn’t have the same standards of format and presentation that academic conferences do. I, as a first-year college student, was able to participate, but so were people who didn’t finish high school and people with graduate degrees. KFANYC very nearly, I think it’s safe to say, made academia accessible to everyone, which is an important thing that those of us entrenched in the ivory tower should be doing. Academic modes are a sort of subculture of analyzing and presenting information, but that doesn’t mean they have to be elitist—just different from, say, journalism, or casual conversation. I think that as much as KFANYC bridged gaps between disparate sexuality communities, it bridged gaps between different registers of discussion, taking academese down a peg while applying a theoretical and philosophical level to more casual conversations.
All around, it was one of the most positive experiences I’ve had recently, both personally and communally validating. If you’re interested in learning more about the Kink For All model or even organizing one in your city, do check out the website.