Students from across the Ivy League — and a few from outside it — flocked to Brown's campus last weekend for the third annual IvyQ, a conference that discussed issues of gender and sexuality.
It was a weekend filled with serious dialogue, laughter and a great deal of socializing. With a schedule full of events, it was up to each participant to decide just what he or she wanted out of the IvyQ experience.
The conference, originally held at Penn in 2010, had three stated goals — to educate, empower and network. While conference Co-Chair Alp Ozcelik '13 advised finding "a balance," students could choose where they wanted their focus to lie.
We are young
Through a combination of keynote speakers, panel discussions and smaller lectures, the conference provided an array of topics relating to the queer experience.
The first keynote speaker, Juanita Diaz-Cotto, professor of sociology, women's studies and Latin American and Caribbean studies at State University of New York at Binghamton, talked about becoming comfortable with one's identity and embracing spirituality — though not necessarily religion, she added — through the lens of her experiences as a Puerto Rican lesbian.
Diaz-Cotto recalled her coming out experience. "I was butch-looking way before I came out of the closet," she said, adding that she felt pressured to reveal her sexuality due to others' perception of her appearance.
Keynote speaker Kate Bornstein '69, a transgender author and gender theorist, began her address by announcing her phone number and encouraged audience members to text her and live-tweet throughout the address.
"When we explode a binary, we reveal a hierarchy," she said, stressing the need to question binaries. "The problem with hierarchies is when we get a non-agreed-upon point of authority at some dreamed-up top of the hierarchy."
Bornstein also questioned the binaries implied by the LGBTQ label, suggesting dozens of potential identities — some of which she advised students to simply Google — to replace the acronym, including among them queer straights, men who have sex with men, furries and masochists.
After expounding upon her own masochistic tastes throughout her address, Bornstein ended with an offer — everyone in attendance would be given a "Get out of hell free" card.
"Do whatever you need or want to do in order to make life worth living. … Just don't be mean," the card reads. "Should you get sent to Hell for doing something that isn't mean to someone, I'll do your time in Hell for you."
Bornstein emphasized that the trade was ideal for both parties — as a masochist, she said she would be willing to take others' time in Hell.
We are family
IvyQ simply provided a venue for like-minded individuals to socialize. For many, this was more important than lectures or scheduled discussions.
"I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing," Ozcelik said, as long as people were able to find others with whom they could feel comfortable and supported.
Ozcelik said he received feedback from a number of participants that IvyQ offered them an environment where they were able to feel more comfortable with themselves and their sexual identities than ever before — despite already being "out" at home or at school.
Friday's SexPowerQueer dance — meant to mimic the idea behind SexPowerGod — offered IvyQ attendees an opportunity to let loose with other participants. Saturday night, they were treated to a banquet at the Rhode Island Convention Center that showcased a drag queen performance, followed by clubbing downtown.
Students seeking a calmer, more sober experience could attend Thursday night's opening talent showcase or a late-night movie screening that represented an alternative to Saturday's clubbing.
This year, the conference established "family groups" of 20 to 25 participants that were led by conference coordinators. These groups offered a new way for attendees to branch out socially.
The family groups met Friday for the Identity Open House, where they moved among several rooms in the Stephen Robert '62 Campus Center, stopping at stations for each gender or sexual identity — including gay, straight, transgender, bi- and pansexual and none of the above. Their parent leaders facilitated discussions on each identity, allowing participants to share anecdotes and opinions or ask questions.
We got the power
Participants with more pragmatic goals found their niche at the conference's career and activism fairs.
At the activism fair that concluded the conference Sunday morning, students could speak with nonprofits and other activist organizations with missions related to gender and sexuality, giving them a chance to discover how to get involved in the issues they had discussed over the weekend.
The career fair gave the conference's top corporate sponsors a venue to talk shop and seek out potential future LGBTQ employees.
Some students took issue with the level of involvement these sponsors were given in the conference. They hosted a party Thursday night to express their dissent and handed out flyers stating their views.
Bornstein said she spoke with a member of the dissenting group and offered them a chance to take the stage and voice their opinions at the beginning of her address. No one spoke up.