“It’s not a cold! It’s just allergies!”
Oldest protested after I asked him to sequester himself to his room. After all, we were about to go on a week-long conference in a few days, Youngest was about to spend that week at a sitter, and it would be horrifically bad timing if we all were to get sick at this time. Normally, he’s more than content to make good on the angsty teen stereotype: avoiding his annoying family by staying in his messy hidey-hole of a bedroom. But for some reason, now, he was insisting on being around all of us, coughing and sneezing and generally being miserable all over the place.
Fast forward to our arrival in Washington, D.C. for Woodhull’s Sexual Freedom Summit 2016. My head is swimming from a cocktail of cold meds, while I wheel Mary through a sea of humanity in search for our luggage. Just hours before, we had dropped Youngest off with our friend, who had graciously allowed our child to stay as planned, despite the raging head cold she now had.
Allergies my ass.
By the time the conference was starting in earnest, I was on the mend, but Mary would soon get sick. We spent nearly the entire conference holed up in bed in the hotel room, watching marathons of HGTV and Planet Earth on BBC, eating delivery food, and made a few of the evening social events as we were able. Even after I got over my cold, Mary was sick, and I didn’t want to leave her sick and by herself. I made a few sessions and hung out in the blogger lounge while she was sleeping, but for the most part, we both stayed in the room for the large majority of the conference.
You see, I was very anxious about the conference this year. I felt I had made a good impression on people the year before – I was looking forward to catching up with the blog squad. There were several people who’d be there this year that I hadn’t met yet, but had been chatting with for months now. Excited, yes, but incredibly anxious and nervous as well. I put an unnatural amount of pressure on myself to get my appearance just right last year. Every detail about my wardrobe and accessories and makeup was planned out to agonizing detail, and was a source of some major anxiety when things didn’t look just right before leaving the hotel room, regardless of the reason. As amazingly transformative as SFS15 was, it was not self-care, and I was hard pressed to find time for it in the weeks and months following last year’s conference.
But this year, I had little choice but to be in self-care during the conference. I’m not going to spend 45 minutes doing my makeup in a way that coordinates with my clothes/shoes/jewelry/accessories if I’m going to be in bed all day. Not even for the couple of minutes outside the hotel room that it takes to get the Chinese delivery. I’m going to go to the lobby in my cute and comfortable PJs, rainbow flip flops and tied-back hair and not care about the look of confusion on the delivery guy’s face as he hands me my large general chicken and half-gallon of egg drop soup. If I’m going to be sick, or taking care of my sick partner, I’m going to at least try to be comfortable.
As awful as it felt, being sick left me without the reserves to meticulously prepare and perform as I felt I needed to last year. I was free to really dig into what it meant to be myself; to experience my gender instead of perform it for others. That disregard for the performance of gender followed me out of the hotel room when I finally felt up to being around people. With the lone and happy exception of the awards ceremony, I was committed to being comfortable.
And I couldn’t have asked for a better environment for learning that lesson. If last year gave me the words, knowledge, and support to find out more about myself, then this year gave me the space and example on how to be true to, confident in, and most importantly, comfortable with myself.