After reworking the scope, direction, and authority of my topic, time inevitably passed (as it always does) and it was finally time to present my paper at the Perspectives on Gender and Technology conference in Austin, TX.
I had been worried that my level of discourse wouldn’t be up to par, as gender studies isn’t my area of expertise. But I have studied gender all of my life, as Mary Jo has pointed out to me numerous times. Even upon arriving in my hotel room on Thursday afternoon, I still felt my paper was too nebulous. Instead of walking around on a beautiful afternoon, I sat down and worked, finally finding a way to focus my thoughts in such a way that the presentation would be more aligned with my own field while opening the door to work in gender and technology.
Maybe it was just fear, but I rationalized it as being about focus.
Instead of foregrounding my observations–about Second Life, FFS simulations in Photoshop, and transsexual discussion boards–on the topic of building a new identity, I decided to focus on the way emerging transsexuals use these technologies as (self) persuasive tools to help them decide what to do when the GID is so overwhelming that doing nothing is no longer sustainable.
I struck upon this strategy in the evening, late in the evening, and spent much of the night tweaking my Powerpoint presentations and creating new graphics to illustrate argumentative concepts to the audience. I got some sleep, I suppose.
This day and the day of my presentation was also the period where all the furious emails from my sister and uncle were flying around, so I think it’s safe to describe that overnight stay in the Omni Hotel as emotional.
I drove to campus and stopped at the guard booth over by the Dobie Mall on the south side of campus. I asked the guard if there was parking near the computer science building, and then her face lit up and she nodded wildly, apparently on the phone with someone at that very moment to figure out that very question. She waved in broad gestures to someone standing 100 feet away, a woman who looked like she might be going to the same conference. She had received bad information and believed the conference was up in Parlin Hall, home of the English Department. Knowing that was false, I told her to follow me down the hill to Waller Creek, where we turned left, weaved our way around the construction, and finally found the much-nearer parking garage. We walked and talked our way up to the conference, leaning on each other (metaphorically) just in case we had made a mistake. But no, there was the computer science building with the high tech auditorium, right where I expected it.
The people at the conference were terrific, the keynote speakers knowledgeable, and my fellow speakers intriguing and professional. My paper went just fine, even if time seemed to fly by. The audience was interested and asked good questions. Before coming to Austin, I had been concerned that the official respondent for our panel, Sandy Stone, noted communication and transsexual theorist, would find all sorts of holes in my argument, methodology, and general worth as a human being. However, once I had my focus on argumentation and technology, and once she had lightheartedly told the audience that she supposed she had to moderate the session by virtue of being the “designated transsexual” on the University of Texas campus, it was clear that my fears were ungrounded. Being the first paper she introduced, I picked up the theme and came out to a room of perhaps 30 academics, saying “Well, then I’m happy to tell you that I’m on the verge of holding the same position, the designated transsexual, at Texas Tech,” and went straight into my paper from that point.
The second paper was delivered by a graduate student in the Philosophy Department of the University of South Florida, and it covered issues of intersexed people and strongly resisted a rigid sex and gender binary. The third paper was a fascinating discussion of post-war Japanese reproductive religion and state. And the fourth paper was an anthropological look at identity and gender. All four of us would have benefited from a longer session because it was clear that we could talk with each other for hours and the audience had many questions and observations. Maybe that’s the best way to leave things.