There were many lessons for me at Netroots Nation, few of them learned in a seminar room.
As a transgender woman, who grew up in a very straight environment, and not attuned to gay life by virtue of any early knowledge about my sexual orientation, and moving rather abruptly into trans life in my 30s, I have not spent much time with openly gay or lesbian people. I learned as a new transperson to distrust gay people, based on my own difficult personal experiences with a relatively few individuals, as well as absorbing the negative view more common among older transpeople who were my mentors.
Here, I suddenly found myself surrounded by a big gay family in the carnival atmosphere of Las Vegas and the deeply activist environment of Netroots Nation.
I have rarely felt such love in and for my LGBT community.
It all began with a drink at the bar, surrounded by the clanging discord of hundreds of slot machines.
I finally spotted Bil and Jerame after getting into my room and going downstairs to scout around. I was immediately introduced to half a dozen people, whose names I immediately forgot, but then was reminded again when we got to talk more personally. My memory is not the best.
I not only spent more time than I ever have with Bil and Jerame, whom I adore in spite of, and perhaps because of our many disagreements, and spent more time with a few other people I had met before, but also met many people whose identities had heretofore been only black letters in a glowing rectangle of computer screen.
Talking to someone via email is so very different from meeting them in person. Online, words attain an importance that overshadow identity. The people I met were very, very different from my expectations. While online communication has created an ease of communication never before existing in history, I learned that it also skews the communication. We don't see them as the many-dimensional people they really are, but as a one-dimensional persona that doesn't really exist.
I learned to appreciate that there are there are many different styles, many different issues, and many different personalities at work on bringing our community to the attention of the netroots and the wider world. They have different ethnicities, religions, orientations and ages than I. I related better to some than to others. They are all sincerely hoping to make a difference, and that must be respected.
I also found in my discussions with dozens of activists and bloggers outside of our community that our LGBT issues are not well understood by a lot of the netroots.
Ultimately, despite our many differences within the LGBT community, that is the lesson for me: we must make ourselves known to the larger world. I'm not sure how best to do that, but I am sure that the more contacts we make with the outside world, the more they will come to our aid. That suggests getting involved in non-LGBT issues like immigration, health care, homelessness, aging, etc. Time to branch out.
I also found that I was reticent to communicate my trans identity to people I had just met, fearing they would view me as a weirdo, and that is something I should work to overcome. How are they going to know we exist if we don't tell them we're here? What made me think that progressive people were going to disapprove, and why should I care? Well, I have lots of work to do on myself, and that's no secret.
I also learned that those slot machines are most definitely not to be trusted.
But I also learned that fortune can smile, even at the end of what seems like a long, losing battle. Down to my last 10 quarters, here's what I won on my last spin on the Vegas slots: