Why the Creating Change Conference Matters

It is Sunday as I write this, Rufus, a shortish missive that I hope will find you dwelling on the day in a pleasant manner as I allow the soreness of feet from hills in heels fade from the weary legs that carried and climbed such.

I am listening, as I write this, to the music that has, in such a short time, become the heart and soul of the sound of what it is that I spend my days attempting to do so fervently, so feverishly, so often doing so feeling as if I am alone in the world, seeming adrift in the vast void, praying that against the ocean of work that surrounds me that I might find a path, a way, to make the seemingly gargantuan task less daunting, less depressing, less  resistant to the simple truths that are so incredibly obvious to me, even though I know that such is because I have a vision, an understanding of people and of their dreams, their goals, their yearnings and aspirations.

Not once in this last week did I hear mention of Cloud Atlas, let alone the amazing music that drove it, that has become so important to me, because, as I noted in the past, the film, itself, so deeply and perfectly and wonderfully represents our lives, the panoply of wonder and hope and yearning and resistance and struggle that combine to make what it means to be a Trans person, a quirk of film that is not so readily found in the novel on which it is based.

I am writing this because there is something that I have let go in the past, but cannot let go right now, and it is an attack on the reason that I am sitting here, writing this strange posting, in a rented room a thousand miles away from where my soul resides, slightly grumpy and yet energized, filled again with promise and hope and renewed sense of desire that even for the hardiest among us can flag, can wane.

They call it Creating Change; a convocation, a concentration, a gathering of the rich and the poor, the erudite and the willing, the young and the old, the people who put their lives on hold in order to make life better for others.  Gay and straight, poly and mono, bi and pan, tall and short, fat and thin, black and brown and white and red and yellow they have come together in a collective rendering of desire as they have every year for 25 years in a conference that is a roving, moving, changing festival and celebration just as much as it is a chance to learn, to grow, to indulge in self care and self release, a chance to be both the “leader” and the “follower”, a place where equality is not merely what is sought but what is readily, freely given, as you slide in between a fresh faced pale youth of 21 who has been an activist for a decade already and is wondering what to have as a major and a tenured professor who lived through the radicalized 60′s but is only now starting to act as an advocate in a way that is fresh and new to them.

The name is the National Conference on Creating Change, and this year the key events were live streamed for free, for the entire world to see. The Opening, the State of the Movement, the Closing; each with audiences in the thousands here, were three moments of amazing clarity in an effort that is not short term, in an ongoing struggle that is, even now, evolving from what it was just a decade ago, as the struggles themselves flow and ebb and the power of what we are doing is building up to what will, no doubt, be a stunning success, but not the end of the war, merely a  battle that we look to as a turning point.

It is easy, in a militant movement, to turn to the metaphors of war, the parables of combat, but this is quieter sort of struggle and the weapons and wounds that are involved are not as visible as scars on the bodies, though the price, the cost is no less.

It is a conference put on by a storied organization, and this was the 25th one — a constantly shifting gathering and this year there were at least 3,000 people, seemingly over half of them under the age of 27. (which, I have discovered, means it seemed like there were 5,000 of.)

Some condemn this meeting, seeing no value in it, seeing no purpose in it, seeing nothing more than the very cynicism that is precise enemy of activism that they already carry in themselves, or perhaps the hostility towards slights imagined and fabricated to provide cover for that hostility.  Even today, I saw tweets from people as lowly as GallusMag proclaiming that there was nothing here for Lesbians, and yet every lesbian I was with and around this last week (for I am, as ever, more comfortable there, and made so by the way they drag me there, to be among them, an experience I am still not used to, still not adapted to) was overjoyed that there was so very, very much for them.

That tells me that the truth is still as valid now as it ever was, still as strong as it needs to be, and that is that you get out of things what you bring to them, you take home what you want, you get what you give, the golden rule is in force.

Of course GallusMag sees no value. She isn’t seeking to create change. She isn’t seeking to make the world a better place, she isn’t seeking a radical change in the way people think or dream or do, and she does not do anything herself that is worthy of such.

No, what she wants is to exclude, to block off, to deny.  So yes, that is why she sees nothing for her, and why she projects that outside herself and makes herself the stand in for all other lesbians and declares there is nothing for us, and why her cries are noted only by those she hates.

I attended five events for just lesbians. Three of them I was dragged into because, as is becoming ever more apparent, I’m apparently giving off major gaydar rumblings of being a lesbian. Perhaps a bit more, but for now I’m bi and pleased.

I have seen nearly every major attack on the CC conference in the last month. All of them come from people who not only do not know or understand what it is they are talking about, but as a result, they ask a really stupid question.

“What change is created?” they clamor, forgetting that this is a conference about the act of doing so, where ideas, success, plans, tools, strategies, and contacts are made so that people can make more effective change and not have to reinvent the wheel over and over again, so we can compare notes and celebrate each others accomplishments, so that we can spot those who are in this for their own egos and those who are in this for the hope of a better tomorrow.  So that those of us who are in flyover country can feel less alone, and those of us on the coasts can see what we can do to help them.  So that people can talk to Robbie and learn how to schmooze, which is a skill set that too few of us actually have, yet is absolutely essential to the work of fundraising and of helping others.

Yet change does happen.  The President addressed this largest gathering of grassroots activists ever.  He did so intentionally.  He even got ribbed for not saying anything more than gay, which has had my brothers and sisters and siblings in the Trans community more than a little peeved, even though we do also understand the “practical reality” that Cis people forget us most of the time because they haven’t learned how to remember us yet.

Change happens here, because there are people who come from rural areas not knowing what to do or where to start or how it is that they can help those where they are, who might number not more than two dozen, and now they are going back home armed with piles of information and contacts from across the country and the knowledge that a phone call can make a change and free them.

Many complain about how it is always the same people at the top of the organizations, but those large organizations are always changing, and it is the contacts made here that can lead to interviews made here and to contracts negotiated ere and those are changes that better the movement as greater diversity arrives.

This year, Latino LGBT people felt like they were closer to being a part of the whole movement, and no longer glossed over. This year, people came thinking one thing about how they were going to go out and perform HIV outreach and learned a new way that will change their low results to high ones.

Those are all changes that are created by this conference existing, because it puts people together that otherwise would never have known that the other existed. And that is the power, and the importance of the event, a brief span of time where you can take a moment and see what you can do to make the work you do, the boots on the ground in social work or the fists on the table of politics given more internal drive, greater strength, the lessons from one taught and shared with others in ways that no newspaper or magazine or forty five second TV broadcast show can provide.

I renewed two dozen good strong friendships with people I would rarely encounter. I got to speak with other Trans folks who do the work in areas I no longer have ready access to and I got to speak in the language and terms I am most comfortable with, that are not always easily used among other trans folk. I was reminded of how well known I am for being Dyssonance, and why I am known for being such, and set in motion to have the work I do known far better than I am, which is important to me.

I made new friends, and learned much.  In five minutes I learned more about the cultural fears of LGBT in St. Petersberg than I could ever have learned from a news report, and got to see the real impact on actual lives that the Duma passing a law can have. And I did that while smoking a Chinese cigarette bummed from a youth while speaking to a Professora and in the same spot the next day I watched a twitter friendship become flesh and blood (Hiya Chris!) and found a Radical Faerie that dwells in my favorite building in all the world.

This is stuff that only a conference like this can provide, and if you think that this kind of networking isn’t important, that it isn’t an example of how change is created and an example of change that is created, then you are a fool and a dullard and trolling for the sake of bitching about something you do not understand, no different from the people that make the lives of LGBT people far more difficult than those who earn a living doing so.

You are the ignorance that those of us who do the real work struggle to overcome, personified.

I have heard people say that Creating Change is nothing but an excuse to fundraise for the Task Force. Well, I find that rather hilarious, myself.  I know Rea, and I know Sue and I know the hardworking and amazing people like Mardi and Lisa that put their time and energy and effort into the work that the Task Force does and let me explain something to you:

It is a fundraiser. But it isn’t for the Task Force.

This year, the plane flight for me was donated. The room I stayed in — a Best Western that is small and cozy and could use a bit more refinement since the tub needs refinishing and the shower curtain is sorta useless but where the staff has been awesome and watching them today work like demons to get ready half the place’s rooms by check in time with a regular sized staff because this place emptied this morning — was donated.  THe food and drinks were donated, and all of that came from outside TIH.

I had to pay my cab fare from (and tomorrow, to) the airport and my luggage fees..

If none of that had been arranged, I probably wouldn’t have gone.  All together, the trip will have cost right about 1300 dollars for myself and one Board member. Assuming we eat really cheap tonight.

And from the effort here we are walking away with what will in the next twelve months become well over 15,000 dollars worth knowledge  access, and tools, and probably have a major role in opening the Trans Center.  There will be press and publicity, there will be new programs and new tools to serve the community. None of which I would have had prior to this.

That is a return on investment that only a cynic would think of as poor.

Next year, it will be in Houston, Texas.  I fully expect that to be an enormous event, better attended than this, and if I am really, really lucky, it may even afford me a moment with family (thought hat will involve a drive, lol).

After that, Denver, Colorado. Following that, Chicago, Illinois.

This conference is mobile. It travels the country.  It rarely appears in warm places like Phoenix because the room rate that they negotiate is not more than 159 a night, and getting that kind of a rate in Phoenix this time of the year damn near requires action by the city council.  The hotels around the host hotel were all much more than that — and they were higher because of this event.  The money put into the economy here helps the local efforts to make change because it pumps money into the local economy and if you do not understand that and you bitch about such, then you again are speaking to things you do not understand.

But that’s why it rarely appears in southern California, as well.

Still, it travels, all across the country, to places where there is enough space that isn’t a convention center to support a visiting body of 3,000 LGBT from all over the country and the world who have come together to figure out how to make things better in every single way possible, not merely the one or two that have the most attention and often the most funding.

This is the event that enables activists from all over the country to plan lobby days and formulate strategies.This is the event that enabled Muslim LGBT people to come together and form a coalition despite being separated by time and space. This is what led to the creation of the Trans Advocacy Network. This is where genuine radical feminist consciousness raising happens and includes trans women.

Other movements, other efforts, do the exact same thing.  For crying out loud, what do you think the Republican or Democrat National Conventions are?

In a previous post, I responded to one comment who thought she was being all smart and so forth and never quite realized that I was laughing at her, because she was literally talking about tings she did not understand, was saying lies that she was utterly unaware were lies, and when I took a few moments to explain things to her, she literally refused to believe them.

People like that are not interested in answers. They are interested in creating problems, in driving drama, in slowing down the work to make things better.  And one of the things I am often sought out for is advice on how to deal with these people, how to respond to them.

I always say do not.

Yet here I am, not taking my own advice, and I need to note why.

This year, I saw more youth than I have ever seen here before.  The millennials have more than arrived, they are the ones driving the hardest work in the movement these days. I saw several of me comparatively rare Gen X contingent, but we are rare.  I saw more GenderQueer and GNC folks, proudly being themselves and reveling in the space to be so.

I am responding for them. Not because they cannot, but because the kind of misinformation that comes from someone asking “well what kind of change is created” in their dumbass voice makes people think that such is the purpose of Creating Change — it isn’t, and I want the youth to be able to spend their time doing the good work, not telling people who are ignorant fools what it really is for.

The purpose of Creating Change is to talk about, learn about, and exchange knowledge on the subject of creating change. To ask a question about an event and imply in that question the the event doesn’t accomplish something the event actually isn’t meant to do makes it seem like the event is something bad, like it is something wrong, like it is…

well…

gay…

or Trans

or queer…

or black

or asian…

or “crippled”…

or “retarded”…

and since the work that these amazing people that attend this event is all about stopping people from saying things like that, well…

it just seems fitting that I should point out that those who condemn Creating Change inevitably are talking about something they invented without ever realizing what it really is; that they carry with them cynicism, and have not yet learned that cynicism is the death of justice, the bane of freedom, and idiocy in action because it only arises when you already feel you have lost and when you have given up hope.

For a movement that is born of not doing so, birthed of a desperate and often bloody cry for it, a movement in which that strongest and most noble of emotions — yearning — is the core, the basis, the start, there can be little else that is any more wring than that.