I had been looking forward to CatalystCon East ever since I attended CatalystCon West in Long Beach last September. CatalystCon West was all about validation for me. I not only learned a great deal that weekend but made great connections. I was a scared newbie that was embraced by the established community and told that my stories were important which validated me as an educator. I was encouraged to keep going and to shoot for higher goals. I left CatalystCon West inspired to do just that.
Attending CatalystCon East saw the fruition of some of those goals in a way I had never thought possible. The newbie who didn’t think much of herself was now a more confident writer, an emissary for Sex Geekdom LA, a member of the Bawdy LA team, managing editor for LifeontheSwingset.com and had even made my Swingset podcast debut.
I was so excited when I arrived at CatalystCon East. I was happy to be reunited with all of Swingset, most of whom I hadn’t seen in eight months. While we keep in touch via twitter, Facebook and online chat there’s nothing like having them there in person. We greeted each other with long hugs and wide smiles. After registration, some hot tub time and nice dinner we did a hotel room podcast. Being able to sit together in a room instead of just hearing voices in our headsets was wonderful. We could make eye contact and body contact, and there were lots of both. In fact, there was lots of that all weekend. We amassed an amazing posse of Swingset friends that dined with us, drank with us and hot tubed with us all weekend.
The entire weekend was more than just sessions, workshops and presentations, even though I enjoyed them and learned a great deal. It was also about one-on-one connections with people. I found myself more interested in conversation and interaction than sessions. I had so many fascinating and enlightening discussions. Moments like attending Reid Mihalko’s PJs and blanket fort party were wonderful not just because it was fun to help engineer swaths of sheets and bondage webbing into forts, but the delightful people found underneath.
This feeling of touching base with my community happened all weekend. While there was some networking to be done it felt like I was making many new friends in the process. I had the pleasure of meeting Greg from Njoy toys and watched many Njoy fans gush (pun intended) with thanks for his amazing toys, myself included. I had brief but wonderful conversations with Tom from Sportsheets, Jenna from Tantus, Rachel Krammer Bussel, Cunning Minx, Charlie Glickman and Tristan Taormino. There were also a great many I saw from afar but gave into my ice breaking insecurities and didn’t approach. Some people I didn’t even see at all as we were never on the same schedule during the weekend. With five sessions going on at once it can be difficult to see everyone.
One of the most significant moments for me had to be being embraced by all the Swingset fans. I get lots of thanks and encouragement online but something about the “realness” of it doesn’t sink in. To be recognized, complimented and thanked in person was a mind blowing experience. I will never forget being approached after Swingset’s successful session by Mr. Playset with such a heartwarming, and heart felt, thank you for my work behind the scenes at Swingset. I will never forget that and it was the highlight of my weekend.
I chatted at lunch, in the elevators, before sessions, after sessions, during sessions, in the hot tub, at the registration table, at a play party, in the hallway. So many people I can’t even list them all. I found myself tweeting my location so that anyone who wanted to find me and hang out could. I couldn’t get enough of these amazing people. I also couldn’t get enough of the hugs. I think I was hugged 10-20 times a day. And each of them was awesome and lovely. I even spent a little time with some of my Sex Geekdom LA friends who were there. We didn’t see much of each other the whole weekend but when we did, we caught up with our Con adventures.
The closing keynote on Sunday began with a moving speech by Dee Dennis on the success of the conference. The closing afternoon tea with Carol Queen and Dr. Robert Lawrence seemed to sum up the entire weekend for me. I sat transfixed and mesmerized by their storytelling. They were pioneers recounting their tales about how they met and their early experiences when being sex positive was dangerous work. Their fierce ability to be their true selves and to champion rights for others was inspirational. Robert and Carol spoke words that touched us deeply, at parts we knew were there and parts we never new existed. Instead of categorizing Robert would like us to all be humans together, his sexual orientation is oriented toward sex. Carol reminded us that having sex partners is sex education and that it’s important to learn about the diversity of the people around us.
Someone near the end asked, “What is a sex educator? Who in this room qualifies and who doesn’t?” This prompted the answer from Robert, “We’re all educators here.” I think I felt the entire room swell with emotion. Many were moved to tears. It was amazing to experience the collective consciousness of the room have a moment of self-realization and empowerment all at once. Everyone in that room left feeling validated and inspired.
I knew that the fire started within at CatalystCon West was now a fire I needed to stoke constantly. That was going to take hard work and some sweat but will definitely be worth it. Conversations throughout the night made me realize all my strengths and all my weakness, as well as, brightly illuminating the path before me. It illuminated none of the answers I needed to traverse that path; but at least I knew which direction I needed to go.
I was a mixture of emotions at the end of the conference. Leaving the community of concentrated acceptance and love you experience at one of these Cons is difficult. Sunday and Monday were a long series of goodbyes each more difficult than the next. My toughest goodbyes were with the Swingset Crew on Monday. Every goodbye at the end of the weekend was accompanied by long hugs in which there was a hint of not wanting to let go. Most of us would be going back to online only communication. Back to tweets, status updates, emails and texts.
The first morning back in the “default world” is when it hit me. I dropped the kids off at school and got polite waves and smiles from the other suburban moms. I instantly missed my CCon friends, my sex geek community and my Swingset friends. I was hit with a Con Drop avalanche. I also realized in order to step up as an educator, as an organizer, as an activist and as a writer something was going to have to give. I worried about finding a balance between this new path and my existing job as a wife and mom of two. I spent days overwhelmed by this.
Online we touched base with each other, reminisced about the weekend and made plans for the next CatalystCon. We were all going through Con Drop and withdrawal. The weekend was like an all you can eat buffet of sex positivity and friendship. The return is like being allowed to eat cake everyday then told you have to give it up cold turkey. That sugar crash is agonizing and you’re going to crave it until it slowly leaves your system. The craving won't ever leave completely and will be somewhat satisfied by time spent in your local community and upcoming conferences.
Luckily I have found a great community here. Being with my local Sex Geeks helped me get over Con Drop. A super supportive husband and being in touch with my Swingset crew and friends helped too. The future is still somewhat daunting but I realized I couldn’t step back after the experience of CatalystCon. I’m looking forward to CatalystCon West in September. I’m also looking forward to where I’ll be in my journey.