Some of this is pretty MBLGTACC-specific... or conference-specific... but some of it is relevant to anybody who is new to the queer community who wants to get out more and meet more people. Anyway, here it goes:
- Take a notebook with you pretty much everywhere you go.
I know that nowadays this is a function mostly usurped by smartphones, but I still take a notebook with me places like this. One might expect that it's to take notes during workshops--and that's a part of it--but there's a bigger reason: To remember peoples' names! One of my favorite things about MBLGTACC is meeting a lot of people who share interests I don't always find in my rural Wisconsin village. I still keep in contact with friends from MBLGTACC 2007... before I figured this out... and was writing names on whatever paper I had available.
- Go to a variety of different workshops.
It's easy to go really gung-ho about a certain subject and stick with just that subject. I encourage you to expand your horizons. My first MBLGTACC I went almost exclusively to gender-related events. This makes sense on the surface because I was newly out as transgender on campus, but there's no telling what else I could have explored if I'd gone beyond that.
- Don't go to workshops with your friends.
OK, that's not entirely accurate. By all means, go to workshops with your friends... but don't go to workshops just because your friends are going to be there. I made this mistake in 2008. We didn't even leave the building we started in, and although I definitely met some great people and learned a lot, I also went to some workshops that really didn't interest me and it would have been better for me to go to workshops based on my own preference rather than my friends'.
- Engage with people different from yourself.
One of the things I see happen in large groups of LGBT and queer people is that we clique off. This isn't entirely bad, it usually means we're associating with people we have a lot in common with, but don't assume someone wouldn't make a good friend or ally just because they look, dress, express, or believe different than you.
- Educate yourself before, during, and after.
Look up things like "LGBT Dictionary" in Google and skim through the entries so that words that may be common outside your community don't go over your head. You don't need to be an expert, but have a good working vocabulary. During the event, pay attention and write things down (hence, have a notebook), especially any web addresses or terms you would like to know more about. Later, whether you're in your hotel on a laptop or have already gone home, do research on things that interested or confused you. Especially...
- Pay special attention to concepts and people that make you uncomfortable.
People are creatures of habit, and when people don't act, dress, or express the way we assume they should, it makes us uncomfortable. Although there are some things that should make you uncomfortable (I was handsed-up by a guy on a bus during MBLGTACC 2007, for example), many discomforts are signs of our own prejudice and a sign that we should educate ourselves more.
- Refrain from making nasty, uncalled-for comments about peoples' appearance or mannerisms.
2009 I wound up around some people who were very mainstream type people. This isn't a problem, but it was just obnoxious how they would judge every person that walked past. That trans person doesn't pass well enough, that person is too fat, that person is wearing cat ears and a tail what's up with that... if you're not going to go educate yourself, at least keep it to yourself. Environments like this should be safe spaces for expression.
- Don't make assumptions.
Another moment in 2009 as my party and I were walking along, a male-female couple kissed. This was scandalous to the members of my group, who were wondering first why there were "straight" people there and second why they would have the gall to kiss at a "gay" conference. The male was actually a trans man and the female was bisexual. Don't assume that everyone there is supposed to be gay! There's more to the community than that, there are identities beyond gay and there are straight allies who have every right to be there, too. Don't assume people are cisgender (not transgender), even if you think they look like they are.
- Have a fucking blast!For many of us, being in a space filled with LGBT, queer, and ally people where we can be ourselves, express ourselves, meet new people, and worry little about bigotry is an amazing experience. So have fun, and I hope to see you there!