I am a moderately friendly person. Actually, I’m quite affable, however, I am not great in public. Shy in person. Once I am engaged I will talk your ear off or listen thoughtfully for hours. Some new friends and acquaintances learned my little eccentricity at CatalystCon East this past weekend. The public aspect of my personality is a difficult one to manage. I think there’s a term, something like ‘extroverted introvert’ flying around these days that seems to apply. I am more at home, when out and about, standing back and observing until I am engaged. I fear approaching people. In the past I’ve been called aloof and standoffish. A lot. Really, that’s not the case. I just have a hard time initiating face-to-face interaction.
In other words, please talk to me, but also, please understand if I seem like I don’t want to talk to you. I do…I just…I’m awkward as fuck sometimes.
One of the hardest aspects of public interaction for me is the potential for physical interaction. If we are familiar, friends, business-related, have shared a conversation (in person or online) I will happily give a hug, handshake, touch your arm or be fine if you touch me. If we are new to each other, I am generally not comfortable with this. I need to interact some before that personal boundary falls. This greatly explains why I have picked up/been picked up a grand total of once in my life.
I need a connection.
What I don’t need is a loudmouth performer berating an audience from a stage for 10 minutes, telling us we should all be touch. I do not need it, I do not want it, I got very mad at it. And I don’t think I was alone.
* * *
The performances at CatalystCon’s Urban Erotika showcase were fantastic. Many performers brought me back to enjoying spoken word. There was awesome comedy, poignant statements and good fun. Good, sexy fun.
And then the show ended with this singer.
I’ll admit to some bad journalism right now: I only remember her name is Nina. Nina Something. Her intro was flubbed and I didn’t catch her last name. It seemed a good way to end the night, a sultry song to send us on our way.
Now, something to note: I come from Toronto. As one of my car mates remarked, our live performance etiquette is lacking. Toronto crowds are notorious for standing at the back of the room, not near the stage. Bands from out of town often call out to us to move up to the front. Or if it is a seated venue…we still sit near the back. Performers try and try. Most leave it at a couple snide remarks and move on. As it should be.
So when Nina started in with (I paraphrase) "Let’s all get close. Touch and hold the person next to you. If you don’t know that person, meet and touch. Let’s all touch," I just giggled and remembered back to bands repeating that "move to the stage" plea.
But demand went on. And on. And on. And she started pointing out specific people, noting "That woman, no one is touching her. That man needs to be touching or be touched."
As the excoriating continued, I got more and more angry. I really thought about making a statement. I really thought about telling her to stop. My table mate, someone I had had a lovely conversation with and whom I wish to connect with again to chat, was sitting somewhat behind me (to assure her view of the stage) at our round tables. She leaned in and asked "Can I touch your shoulder so she shuts the fuck up." She was equally annoyed but all I could think was ‘shut the fuck up and sing.’ I remained silent, save for this tweet. I should have been a better advocate for others and myself that night.
* * *
I am lucky. I may feel discomfort at unfamiliar touch…but I have never been victimized. I have never been the recipient of sexual and touch assault. Others at the conference have. I interviewed a survivor early that day who detailed a sexual predator’s ways to force touch on others. Many others. Because their stories are their own histories and I do not share that history, I can, at best, commiserate and help in whatever advocacy is appropriate.
But I didn’t do that. My own discomfort took over and I have to own that. It affected me and still does. Yes, anger permeates and resonates but unease at my own actions remains. A sick feeling has grown that I did not stop her act by standing and speaking or even leaving.
* * *
I was heartened that some people replied to the tweet. I didn’t feel alone. And damn, once she sang she was wonderful. But I couldn’t get past the beginning. And as I think on the event more, I can see where her thinking might have come from (I like to think she wasn’t just rude and ignorant).
We were all gathered in a room at a sex conference. We had spent the day and night learning about, discussing and enjoying strong, sexual words and dialogue. Surely people were hooking up.
But does that us complicit to the idea that sex obviously spreads through place every part of the event?
No. No, it does not.
Being at a sex conference does not give anyone any kind of justification to presume what can and should happen with my body—be it my hands moving to others or their hands on me.
This is a direct message to Nina:
You have no dominion over my body or the bodies of others. Only your own. You have no say. To harangue and shame me into touch was disrespectful and distasteful. You need to check your attitude and learn about the powerful impact of touch before you ever, EVER perform in a sex-related space again.
* * *
Touch really is power. Touch can be used to convey so many messages. It offers and projects care, love, desire, affection. It can also assert control, hurt, damage. Touch can be the greatest or worst form of communication depending on the circumstance. We must respect others and their boundaries around what happens to their body. Unless you ask, you have no idea what their comfort level is.
On the flip side of this incident is the relief I felt every time I was asked if it was okay to hug. That is what you do: you ask. I embraced many people over the weekend and I did enjoy it. Because it was on our mutual terms. Because was consensual and respectful. It was right.
Because I really do like touch…just not when it is forced on me.
posted hastily via email, please let me know any issues with the piece.