Learning Curves: speaking at my first conference
This post could go one of two ways, narcissistic or focused on the bigger picture. I spoke at Edinburgh Mad Con yesterday – the conference of Madness, Mental Illness and Mind Doctors in 20th and 21st Century Popular Culture. I spoke about the moral panic caused by the issue of transgender women using women's public toilets. The speakers were almost exclusively experienced lecturers or those involved in the arts.
My paper was important, blending a topical issue with pop cultural and historical facts, and hopefully some interesting observations. But to get things off my chest, with this being a diary and all, my public speaking skills were awful. I had prepared too many slides for my 20-minute slot; everyone else was using 7-8 slides, while I had prepared 24. I tried to fly through it, finding it difficult to coordinate between my speaking notes, the computer controlling the slides, and the microphone. When I'd finished, I sat down and wanted the floor to swallow me whole, a feeling exacerbated by the quality of the other speakers.
I got my reprieve at the panel afterwards, no longer tied to slides and notes. I relaxed and talked about my specialism and finally was able to enjoy the experience. But this diary post is for me as much as anyone: from now on, no more than 10 slides for a presentation; plan for 15 minutes not twenty. And plan around the physicality: standing is so much worse than sitting; get me a stool to relax on. Public speaking is a holistic experience: it's not just your message – though that should be your priority – but how you cope with the physical logistics, as well as the presentation structure.Moving on from this, it was nice to talk about issues of intersectionality on the panel, of confessing to how white and middle class (and trans-female) my presentation felt. This weekend I'm going to book-review the brilliant anthology I read last week, Trap Door (Ed. Gossett, Stanley & Burton, 2017), about the experience of African American and Latino trans people in the US. Because of the economic intersections, being trans outside of the white, middle-class zone is a different experience. The questions from my own white, middle-class position are these: how do you respond to this structural complexity? How do you effect change for people generally? Naomi Klein, in her book No Is Not Enough, speaks about anti-capitalist coalitions. This doesn't necessarily mean destroying capitalism, but giving it a serious overhaul. In the meantime, at a practical level, the issue of trans rights really feels like white, middle class trans rights, and fighting for something so narrow hardly seems laudable. What it does do is put my conference experience into context. I need to learn lessons on presentation skills, but I can't sink into a morass of self-pity. In the grand scheme of things, it's just part of the learning curve.