Admittedly, I expected it to be fabulous. Every sexuality-oriented conference I have had the privilege to attend the last few years, from the first and second Momentum conferences to the Erotic Authors Association conference in Las Vegas to last fall’s 2012 Woodhull Sexual Freedom Summit, has struck me as resounding with rejuvenating energy, inspiration, and insight. It has been my utter pleasure to attend all of them.
I experienced this one as a little bit different. I won’t say I enjoyed it more, but the energy was slightly distinctive. I suspect the biggest reason for this was that I was participating as a speaker at this one. It was my first time ever being in a speaker position at a conference like this, and it was quite a new perspective to be at the front of the room during the panel on which I sat. Even before the panel took place, the energy of being at the conference in this capacity felt enhanced in some way to me, in a way I am not sure how to articulate.
Our panel was titled “How to Become a Successful Erotic Writer.” I was deeply flattered when editor Rachel Kramer Bussel asked me if I would like to be on a panel about erotica writing at CatalystCon East. (Incidentally, the gratitude I feel for the degree to which Rachel has supported my writing is probably unknown even by her, and I want to take the opportunity right now to express it.) When I found out the panel was also to include Carol Queen, I felt stupefied for a moment or two or 10,000. Actually, I was still stupefied by it when it was time for the panel to start. In addition to Carol Queen and myself, Rachel also asked editor and author Kristina Wright, whom I adore, to be on the panel with us. It was an honor (and in fact a bit surreal) to be speaking about writing in such company. At the last minute, Bethany from Blushing Books joined us as well to speak from the publishing side of the business.
I won’t rehash everything we talked about here, but I truly hope those who attended our session found it useful or helpful in any way (even though we ran out of time and didn’t get to take as many questions as we would have liked!). I consider it a privilege to have had the opportunity to speak for their benefit and am honored they spent the time they did to listen to us. Our hashtag was also #cconwriter, so if you’d like, you can see the Twitter stream here.
Following the panel, I got to meet a representative of the new Pique online erotica zine, which bills itself as “sexy. smart. shameless.” I was very excited to meet her and learn more about the Pique venture. Do check out their site—and if you feel so moved, submit!
Overall, I found CatalystCon East stupendous. I saw people I haven’t gotten to see very often (and in general have only seen at conferences like this) like Greg DeLong (co-founder of njoy), Charlie Glickman, Reid Mihalko, Robin Mandell, and the conference organizer herself, Dee Dennis. There were also those I’ve gotten to see more frequently but am delighted to get the chance to again whenever I can, such as Robin Sampson and Susana Mayer of The Erotic Literary Salon (as well as Rachel and Kristina, who were on the panel with me). And there were some I’ve long admired from afar to whom I personally spoke for the first time at this conference, including Tristan Taormino, Metis Black of Tantus, and Constance Penley (more on that in a bit). Many other people I didn’t get to personally meet but vastly appreciated the commentary from (like Dr. Hernando Chavez during the opening keynote).
One of the highlights of this conference for me was personally connecting with Constance Penley. (It still took my breath away a little bit to type that.) I learned of Dr. Penley’s existence at the first Momentum conference in 2011 when she filled in at the last minute for a session speaker who had canceled. Constance teaches a class on pornography in the film and media studies department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. In 2010, she was called as an expert witness in the U.S. government’s indictment of John Stagliano on obscenity charges. This is what she spoke about at 2011’s Momentum, and I found her account of the process riveting. I was all the more enamored of her experience and contribution given my interest in public policy and fighting censorship. Had I not been leaving for Florida early the next morning, I would have loved to talk with Constance a lot more (probably about as long as she’d let me!) this past weekend. Ever since I saw her at the first Momentum, she has been one of the people I admire most in the sexuality professional field.
Another highlight (and I very much guess not just for me) was the closing panel titled “Afternoon Tea with Carol Queen & Robert Lawrence.” In gathering for the erotica panel Sunday morning, I got to meet Carol’s partner, Dr. Robert Lawrence, for the first time. I would later experience him during the closing panel as one of the most extraordinary individuals I’d personally witnessed in some time. I admit I do not know what to even say about this closing session because it feels like an experience all but impossible to capture in words, but, of course, it would be remiss of me not to mention it.
I found the format of the closing session very accommodating to what was presented. It was informal, and Robert and Carol simply alternated back and forth speaking conversationally about their decades of experience in sexual subcultures and sexuality education. I already knew I found Carol Queen a pioneer and an inspiration. That was reiterated tenfold during their session. This conference was my first time being exposed to Dr. Lawrence in person, and to be frank, I was blown away. I have rarely had the delight of observing and receiving the words and energy of a more genuine, aware, unassuming, astute individual in the context of sexuality education. It was tremendous. I felt the following tweet from the official conference photographer summed the experience up well:
— Tyler Keegan Grigsby (@TKGPhoto) March 17, 2013
I also won the awesome raffle prize in the picture in the middle of this post thanks to conference sponsor Sportsheets, and I decorated my own mask courtesy of ArtPulp, who was there offering them as a fundraiser for Scarleteen. I really don’t know how to thank CatalystCon organizer Dee Dennis, her support staff, and all the volunteers, sponsors, speakers, and attendees more for their contributions to the weekend. It was, as I experienced it, a beautiful conference.
“For just one fleeting moment, the answer seemed so clear, heaven’s not beyond the clouds, it’s just beyond the fear…”
-Garth Brooks “Belleau Wood”