So last week I presented at the IvyQ Conference at Dartmouth University. It’s a conference of LGBTQ Ivy League students. To say the least, I was intimidated. I’m used to presenting at kink conferences, not at schools I wasn’t a good enough student to get into.
Then I arrived in Hanover, New Hampshire and read the conference schedule. That’s when panic set in. I was scheduled to teach Polyamory 101 and my body acceptance workshop, Bare As You Dare. When I checked the schedule I saw that Janet W. Hardy, co-author of The Ethical Slut, was teaching an intro level polyamory class. Why would anybody take an intro to Polyamory class from me when they could take one from one of the women who (literally) wrote the book on polyamory? Then I realized that Janet W. Hardy’s class was at the same time as my Bare As You Dare class. I had to call Elaine, my partner, to calm me down and convince me everything would be okay, but I thought I’d be facing two empty classrooms.
As time for my Polyamory 101 class drew near, I was, in fact, staring at rows and rows of empty seats. This has happened to me once before. It’s not the best feeling. You feel really silly, like you threw yourself a party and no one showed up. You start to wonder how long you’re obligated to keep hoping people will come before you give up and go somewhere and weep.
Luckily, people started to trickle in and I ended up with about twenty bright-eyed and engaged students and everything went fine. One down, one to go.
Then it was time for my clothing optional body image workshop. Joe, my tech assistant, came in to help me get the room set up and he sheepishly said, “Um… I was told that you usually teach this class… in the nude.” I have to admit, I enjoy that my life leads to situations like this one.
At first, I was worried that no one would show up. Then I figured that a bunch of Ivy League college students would be less willing to get naked than the older crowds I present to at kink conferences. I thought I would be the only naked one presenting to a bunch of clothed college kids, and wondered how that would feel. I was so wrong. This was the biggest, barest and best Bare As You Dare workshop I’ve ever done. I was in a room that held seventy students and it was packed. Kids just started streaming in and taking their clothes off. Presenter Vanessa Van Edwards gives out chocolates to people who answer questions during her presentations, so taking a page from her book, I gave out chocolates to students who were brave enough to get undressed. Once the chocolates started being given out, the clothes just started flying. The class basically came to a stop while I delivered chocolate to naked and half naked co-eds. By the end of the session, I was out of chocolates. I am now officially the old man who gives candy to students in exchange for taking their clothes off.
I somehow got it in my head that the class ended at 4:30, so I sped through some stuff and cut out some parts where I talk about myself and was done around 4:20. I realized the class went to 5pm and we had 40 minutes left. I kinda panicked thinking I was going to have to fill time. I had built in a new part where I ask if any member of the audience is willing to come in front of the group, get naked and talk about their body image issues. I thought, maybe I’d get one or two takers. I lost count of how many people volunteered. Not only did we fill 40 minutes, but so many people were willing to share that we ran over time (but we only ran over time by two minutes, cause that’s how I roll).
Several students confessed to horrible traumas in their childhood and high-school years. There was so much radical honesty in that room. They didn’t just get physically naked, they got emotionally naked. There were several times when I thought I might cry, but I held it in for the sake of the students. I’ve never been so moved at a conference.
There was one young lady in the audience who caught my eye. She came to speak to me after the workshop and I flirted with her, which is probably somewhat immoral if I think about it too hard. She told me how old she was and the next thing that came out of my mouth was, “You’re young enough to be my daughter,” and with that, any infinitesimal chance I had with her was brutally murdered.
After the workshop, I went to see spoken-word artist Denice Frohman perform. She was amazing. I’m really happy to see poets at conferences like this. By the end of her set, she’d brought the crowd to their feet and received a long and very authentic standing ovation. Afterward, I stood in line to buy a copy of her CD. When I told her I was from St. Louis, the conversation immediately turned to the situation in Ferguson. When I got back to my hotel, I listened to her entire album in a single sitting, which I almost never do. It’s that good.
Waiting for the shuttle back to my hotel, I found myself sitting in front of a building that was all lit up in the colors of the rainbow, underneath a billowing Gay Pride flag and a gentle snowfall. It was a beautiful and calming ending to a very healing event.
Friday I’m off to New York City to perform my work at the book release party for The Big Book of Domination. St. Louis, please don’t burn down while I’m gone.