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AROHO or not? waiting to find out…

October 5, 2014

I have a catchphrase that I have lots of opportunities to say: [exasperatedly] “Well, that’s exactly what I didn’t want to have happen!” I said it just a few minutes ago. I was looking for a particular bottle on a high shelf, and one of the unseen lids slipped off behind the shelf, into a place I can’t reach it.

Spouse laughs whenever he hears me say my catchphrase. He wonders why I don’t do things differently, so that the things that I don’t want to have happen aren’t the things that happen.

Well, why don’t I?


In September 2013, I became aware of an environmental conference concentrating on pesticides that would be occurring in Maryland the next month. As I looked into it, I wasn’t one of the usual sorts of attendees [government scientists, non-profit administrators, beekeepers, etc.], so I wasn’t sure I was eligible to attend. I emailed the organizer to check, before registering. No one responded, so I swallowed my disappointment, and went on with my life.

Two weeks before the conference, I got an email from an intern for the conference, telling me they were looking forward to seeing me!

I was thrilled. I actually had to change around my schedule, but I was happy to do that. I also had to figure out how I would get to the location, a place I’d never been.

The social aspects of conferences can be quite tricky for introverts, even when your professional background matches everyone else’s. I actually have a professional environmental background — just years out of date, and back in Indiana. If anyone asked, I was gonna say I was an environmental blogger first, and then maybe elaborate about my background if it seemed relevant.

The day of the conference, I walked into the hall with someone I’d met in the parking lot. She worked for a nonprofit that I was aware of. I shared my concerns that I would be out of place as “merely a concerned citizen”. She thought it was great that I cared enough to bother!

At the check-in table, there wasn’t a name tag for me, but an intern was happy to give me the supplies to make my own. Then the organizer showed up, demanding to know what was going on. When I told her my name, she got very agitated. She made a big scene.

My new acquaintance was behind me in line, as were other people. They all got to hear about how there’d been “some kind of mix-up”, and I wasn’t actually welcome. The rest of the line melted away in embarrassment. I was practically in tears. The organizer ungraciously decided I could stay for the conference.

My composure never really recovered, as I spent the entire conference worried that, if I said “the wrong thing” (whatever that might turn out to be), I would be asked to leave. I can’t even remember if I told anyone I was an environmental blogger. But it was during that conference that I thought, “Maybe being an environmental blogger is a dumb idea. Maybe everything I want to do is a dumb idea. Maybe there is no damn place for me anywhere in this world.”

And then, for the first time, I heard about neonicotinoids. And everything changed.


Today is not the day I write about neonicotinoids. That really needs to be posted on my 2nd blog, the environmental/poetry blog called werdivory, that no one but me ever reads.

I have spent my life seeking out things I need to know, which means I often find myself in places where no one is similar to me at all. Usually everyone else is fairly similar to each other. I’m the lone weirdo.

Spouse might say, “why don’t you just go to places where you fit in?” Well, because there aren’t any places like that.

I thought AROHO could be as close as I ever get though. And, oh, I had the most amazing time there last summer!

I applied to go in November 2012, when I was still calling myself genderqueer. One of the essays in my application discussed gender, and some of my gender issues.

By the time I attended, in August 2013, though, I knew I was nonbinary.

Maybe I wouldn’t have fit in anyway. My name change had just gone through, so I was getting used to introducing myself in a new way. I wasn’t published. I hadn’t read much poetry. I didn’t have an MFA. (I don’t even want an MFA.) I’ve never taught . . . anything. (I don’t want to teach anything.) I don’t have kids. I don’t have the usual kind of dysfunctional family — talking about my family of origin is perilous, and often immediately alienates people. I didn’t have any kind of paying job, and felt really conflicted about it.

On the positive side, I’m very environmentally aware. I know at least a little bit about a great many things, often from reading about them. I’m curious about everything. I discover connections between things that other people don’t. I’m very open-minded. I can be quite enthusiastic. I’m friendly. I remember things people tell me about themselves. I like people. I especially like people who are different from me in interesting ways, because then we can learn from each other. (And I need to be learning, almost constantly.)

I had such a great time at AROHO. I really did. But the stuff everyone else could bond over — the experience of Womanness in a Man’s World —wasn’t really complex or nuanced enough to describe my experiences in the world. And yet, I didn’t feel I was allowed to talk about my experiences.

I kind of felt like I was there under false pretenses. Like if the AROHO administration knew who and what I really was, I wouldn’t be welcome.

I was the wrong kind of diversity.

(The story of my life.)

A few days ago, I wrote to AROHO, and came out as nonbinary. I’m waiting to hear if that disqualifies me from applying for the 2015 Retreat.


I really really want to find some place, some people, that can like me or love me for who I actually am. Not who I’m trepidatiously pretending to be.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. Siderea permalink
    October 5, 2014 21:30

    It’s interesting to me that you start this post with the “Well, why don’t I?” story. I think the answer is: Because you don’t know how else to.

    I was struck by that while reading the account of the conference you were treated so rudely at. I have an alternative and maybe an insight to propose. But I first want to make clear, I don’t think you did anything wrong, in any moral sense. I think how that conference organizer treated you was execrable, and utterly unjustified. I don’t think it was your responsibility or job to avoid her hostile reaction to you.

    But I think it was avoidable.

    Going to academic conferences in fields of interest for which I have no credentials whatsoever, just for kicks, is a Thing I Do. Well, a Thing I Used To Do when I had discretionary income/time, and hope to get to again in the future. I have in fact done this lots and lots.

    Nobody has ever given me a hard time. And I think there’s a reason for that.

    I’ve never asked anyone’s permission.

    If it’s advertised to the public, and if there’s no requirements expressed in the documentation or in the registration procedure, I assume I’m welcome. I act as if I were welcome. And nobody’s ever had the slightest trouble with it.

    On the rare occasions when someone’s chatted me up — the only occasions anybody finds out there’s anything unusual about me — there’s been surprise, but usually, as you found in line, approval and pleasure. How wonderful someone not with our professional commitments finds our field as enjoyable as we do!

    When I find out about a talk (never happened for a full conference) from word of mouth — when I can’t establish that it’s been advertised to the general public — I’ve been known to call the contact number and without identifying myself ask if it’s “open to the public”. I’ve never been told no. Organizers are generally enthused to have people enthused about their shindig.

    So may I suggest: Stop asking for permission you don’t need?

    I think if you hadn’t so clearly communicated to the organizer(s), in your initial email, that you thought you didn’t belong, it would never have occurred to them that you didn’t.

    You might want to hit up wikipedia’s entry on “Projective Identification”. That sounds from here like what happened with you.

    The insight is this: I’m hypothesizing that maybe you’re going through life treating people as authority figures when they’re really don’t have any meaningful authority, and reenacting the same drama over and over: that of being submissive to their judgment, inviting them to welcome you or reject you. The kicker is, that’s a set-up to fail because when someone has no real authority to say yes, about half of them will say no.

    (One of the things I taught my mentees when I worked with an educational non-profit is to be careful to never, ever, ever ask permission for something from someone they hadn’t established had the authority to say yes. Because if you ask, e.g., the board for permission to do something that only the director can authorize, the board has no authority to say, “sure”, all the approval they can say give is, “you have to ask the director for that” — but they sure can say “no”, because you just gave it to them by asking them. It’s like going up to people saying, “Would you like to punch me in the face?” While some will say, “Uh, no thanks”, some will say “don’t mind if I do!” — *kapow*!– and none of them would have punched you if you hadn’t invited it.)

    It seems to me you want the blessing of welcome explicitly bestowed on you. I don’t think it’s wrong to want that, but I do suspect you’ve been looking for it in places you’re neither entitled to have it from nor likely to get it.

    Paradoxically, I think you might find the world a much more welcoming place if you stopped asking the world to welcome you.

    • October 6, 2014 12:37

      There is so much insight and useful info in here – thanks for sharing so much of your thoughts with me.

      Yes, “welcome” from authority figures is an ongoing thorn in my side, and you’re right – I clearly need to reconceptualize why I even think I need it.

      Just, wow. (In a Good Way.)

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