Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Trans Health Conference Proposal

Well, I just submitted a very last minute (technically late, since the deadline was yesterday) proposal for a workshop to the Trans Health Conference that happens every spring in Philadelphia. This year it's over Memorial Day weekend, I think. I went last year, and thought it was a reasonably good conference. There was some talk online in an FTM forum that I'm a part of about the Chest Surgery Show-and-Tell that is a perennial favorite workshop, where guys can take off their shirts and tell their stories, and folks who have not yet had surgery (and often their partners and families) can get a chance to see some results and ask questions.

I think it's a great resource, and I would've liked to be able to go to one (or more!) before I'd had surgery, to get a chance to see some 'real live' results, and get a better sense of what I was in for. Last year, I participated as a 'show' volunteer, which had its own rewards in terms of my own voyeurism (how do all the other Brownstein guys look?) and vanity (hey, all these people want to see me shirtless! sweet!), as well as feeling good about getting to be a resource.

I felt like the format of the workshop, though, could use some help. The organizers invited people to come up in groups according to which surgeon they'd visited, but then had each person give a sort of 2 minute spiel about their experience, which was nice...except everyone in the audience had to sit through every single introduction, many of which did not stick to 2 minutes. I felt like it was totally useless to someone who, for instance, wasn't considering Double Incision as an option to hear so many DI stories, and likewise useless for someone who was only thinking about going to an east coast surgeron to hear all of us Brownstein guys talk about our experiences. Not to mention, I had to wait through everyone else's presentation before getting my chance to get up there and take my shirt off, and (as Rochelle can attest!) that made me really fidgety and impatient.

Some of the guys on the forum I was reading about were complaining about the format as well, so it can't have been just me who was frustrated. So I sent in a proposal suggesting that the workshop be held more as an interactive, circuit-based situation. Here is the description that I included in my proposal:

I would like to present a Chest Surgery Show-and-Tell, but organized differently from such workshops that I’ve attended in the past. Rather than have everyone who wishes to share stand at the front and present one at a time to the entire audience, I believe it would be more efficient and useful to everyone present if the people who wished to display their chests and/or share their stories broke up into groups around the room according to surgeon. Everyone who comes to the workshop would then be free to circulate around the room, asking questions of the people who have had experience with the type of surgery or particular surgeon that the individual is interested in learning more about.

While this may result in the volunteers having to repeat themselves, it will prevent the entire audience from having to listen to everybody’s information, whether or not it is relevant or useful to each person in the audience. Furthermore, it will allow for more in-depth conversations to occur, as it is easier to ask for clarification and follow-up questions in a smaller group. Likewise, it will be easier for shyer individuals who might be shy to participate in smaller group settings: where they might be uncomfortable getting up in front of a large room, here they would only have to interact with the individuals interested in hearing their particular story.

I will make announcements at the beginning, and lay down some ground rules, including:

1. It is imperative that we all respect everyone and their bodies. There will be NO tolerance for disparaging or insulting comments, or judgments about anyone’s identity, transition choices, or surgical results.

2. No one is required to share more of their body or their story than they feel comfortable with; volunteers may take their clothes off or not, as they feel comfortable, and give out as much or as little personal information as they choose.

3. Please keep questions and information relevant to the topic at hand.

4. When sharing information, speak from your own experience: don’t make generalizations or spread unsubstantiated gossip.

We'll see if they even consider the proposal, since I missed the deadline. And maybe there were other show-and-tell proposals that sound better organized, or from someone with more experience moderating show-and-tell workshops. But I figure it was worth a shot to try out a different format, and see if it's more satisfying for both the volunteers and the audience members.

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