New Beginnings

I’ve blogged before that here in the north land I do not think of January as a time of new beginnings. However, Sunday was a pretty big beginning. I’ve been an active member of Bisexual Organizing Project (BOP) for a while now and Sunday I was elected to a two-year term as chair of the board of directors.

This is a pretty big deal. Sometimes I loose sight of how much because I’ve been hanging around, watching the sausage being made and loosing sight of the bigger picture. Nothing like an annual meeting presentation to put it in perspective.

The 2013 BOP board (including me) wrote a new Strategic Plan for 2014 – 2019 that will take us to the next level of being a resource for the bisexual community. Our revised vision statement is:

Build, serve and advocate for an empowered bisexual, pansexual, fluid, queer, and unlabeled (bi*) community to promote social justice.

I have on good authority that we already have the largest budget of any 501(c)(3) in the country that is devoted primarily to serving the bisexual community.  We host the largest and longest running conference by, for and about bisexuals and our allies in the United States: the BECAUSE conference. Although our primary program focus is serving the Upper Midwest, BECAUSE and our work with other organizations gives us a national impact. We host a bi-annual, international conference for individuals researching bisexuality called BiReCon USA. Plus all the events we exhibit at, recurring social events we host and educational resources we provide. So BOP is kind of a big deal.

But here’s the secret. I love the idea of being chair because I want to empower our board and our committees to go out and make a difference. BOP has great programs, plans for more great programs and so many ways to connect bisexual folks with their community. We have lots of opportunities to get involved and I’m excited to connect people with what excites them. Leading, organizing, volunteering or attending, all of these things are important ways to be a part of our community. Community doesn’t just happen, it happens when people show up.

Last week I took part in a conversation on Fliponymous’ blog that started out about labels and ended with a discussion of community. You’ll find it in the comments of his most recent blog post. Sometimes it felt like Fliponymous and I were just not connecting with Saul. In the end I think we all saw where the breakdown of communication was. Saul has found his personal support among friends and family and that was enough for him. Fliponymous and I are working on the next layer out: community. Friends and family are really important and their support is invaluable. But when you want to change the world around you, you need to work with your community. That’s where BOP comes in: building community, educating allies and potential allies; researching bisexuals and our community so we can educate even more; being present and visible to combat bi-phobia and bi-erasure; being seen so that people struggling with their sexual identities can see that there are other people out there who feel the same way they do. Plus, BOP’s social events are great ways to expand your circle of supportive friends by providing a way to meet people who “get it” about being bi.

So come on down. Check out our Facebook page and get information about our recurring events. Wander over to meetup.com to see our member-driven events. Our website is under renovation right now due to some technical issues, but bookmark it, we’ll be back to our normal helpful, resource self soon.

Of course, I’ll be blogging about the journey I just started with my fellow board members. I’m still grinning like a fool when I think about what’s coming next.

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Emotional Cotton Candy or Why I Get Con-Drop

Last night I came down hard from the BECAUSE conference in Minneapolis, MN. BECAUSE is the regional/national conference for bisexuals and their allies. BECAUSE stands for Bisexual Empowerment Conference: A Uniting Supportive Experience. This year it was immediately preceded by the first ever US academic conference on bisexuality: BiReConUSA. It was an amazing weekend filled with incredible people presenting and talking about all different facets of bisexual community, organizing, activism and other topics of interest to attendees like self care for activists, academic research results and recruiting and motivating allies.

I did three workshops on Saturday because I love presenting. I met some great new friends, reconnected with people I haven’t seen recently and had the part of my brain that works on community organizing issues stimulated. OK, maybe over stimulated. By 4PM on Sunday I was feeling a little overwhelmed with everything I’d take in. I was also short on sleep and emotional from seeing the world premier of QUEER by Gadfly Theatre.

My wife Tanya and I went home and chilled out with dinner and a couple episodes of Grey’s Anatomy, our current NetFlix obsession. I hoped the break would help clear my mind and leave me feeling more balanced. Unfortunately, all it did was clear my mind enough to realize that I was really emotionally fragile and still overwhelmed.

This morning I’m still integrating my experiences and I’ll write more about what’s coming out of that soon. But today I want to talk about con-drop, the feeling of depression that many of us who enjoy attending conferences/conventions get when we return to the real world. Most people ascribe the feeling to the difference between the focused enjoyment of a con and the mundane complexity of our day-to-day lives. That certainly plays a part for me, but that’s not the whole explanation.

I identified part of what gives me con-drop a few years ago, but last night while I was trying to explain it to Tanya, I saw a new metaphor: emotional cotton candy. Don’t get me wrong, I love cotton candy. It is one of my favorite carnival treats. But a bag has almost no food value and it leaves my blood sugar out of balance. While I have a great time eating lots of the yummy fluff, I find myself needing food with more substance right afterwards.

This conference gave me lots to think about, a lot of new ideas for presentations and some important strategies for working with my community. I also saw a lot of needs and no easy solutions. I thought a lot about ways that bisexuals are hurt, disenfranchised and made invisible. That put a pretty heavy burden on the “I want to take care of everyone” part of my personality. It also brought to the surface my own frustrations and anger which I usually don’t engage with.

The cotton candy part is this: meeting new people, having passionate discussions and intense learning experiences is exciting. However, after a weekend of that, I end up with low emotional blood sugar that follows the intense emotional high because at a convention I lack the ability to process emotionally difficult material. To process emotionally icky stuff I need to engage with the people who support me in a way that acknowledges all my parts, strong and weak, and who will hold me accountable when I gloss over the hard, emotional things I need to work out. I haven’t cultivated many of those people in my life.

People find me very open because I share my own personal experiences easily. What they miss is that I don’t share things that are still emotionally messy or painful. What I’m sharing is already processed. If I do share something that is still emotionally messy I do so from an intellectual distance so I can focus on the problem solving, not the emotional processing. This leaves me short on the kind of support I offer others. I totally own this problem, it’s not because something is lacking in the people around me. I’m failing to do my emotional processing in the moment and so it builds up. This conference was more intense then most and left me feeling worse then most.

I have to work hard to be vulnerable or ask for emotional support. I’m really good at being “just fine.” So, it was relatively recently that I recognized the root of con-drop for me was more then just the “return to reality” problem that many people experience. I end the conference having had intense emotional experiences, many of them positive. However, I also end the conference feeling disconnected from the people I’ve gone through the experiences with. We all go home and the cotton candy fluff that raised us to such emotional highs has melted away and left me needing something more substantial to finish processing the experience.

After a long talk last night with Tanya, some quality sleep and a return to my regular routine I’m feeling better. I’m also working on a better system for me to deal with the emotional impact of some of the presentations, and especially the play, that I saw. My heart still aches with all the hurts that were shared. I have discovered that I am more personally affected by the sadness and anger then I have ever allowed before. As someone who excels at being “just fine” I think this is healthy for me. It just isn’t easy.