Those of you who know – or know of – Beth Mitchum are well aware that she always seems to be doing something. She is an author, poet, singer/songwriter, editor, publisher, artist…I could go on and on. Beth shares with us her experiences at the 2011 Conference in Orlando and the 2012 Conference in Minneapolis.
My First GCLS Con Experience 2011
I was already a member of GCLS by 2010, but I really knew very little about the organization. I’m not a joiner, so even though I was a member, I was clueless about how worthwhile the “cons” were. Since I had moved from the Seattle area back to the Orlando area late the summer before, I was surprised to learn that the GCLS cons had been being held in Orlando. It couldn’t get any easier for me really. I had a half hour commute to and from the event, so it was easy and inexpensive enough to attend. Since I’m an author whose first four novels had been released while I was working for Waldenbooks, nearly all of my early book sales were at mainstream malls in the Seattle area. I figured it would be good to touch base with other lesbian writers and readers, a lot of whom I’d met already on Facebook. I was truly amazed at how much fun and how informative the con was. I was very impressed that so many readers attended. I figured it would mostly be writers. I was as pleased to meet the readers in person as I was to meet the other authors in person.
Although I’d interacted with many lesbian authors on Facebook, it was great to put faces to names and enjoy conversations with those I’d interacted with only through Facebook. It was weird already “knowing” people I’d never met in person. A few people I knew by name but they didn’t usually have a photo on their page were a bit of a surprise. I happened to run into Rachel Spangler and Georgia Beers in the ladies room. I recognized Georgia’s face and we smiled and said hello. I was startled when a cute baby dyke said “Hello, Beth Mitchum.” I found out later that was Rachel Spangler, but I didn’t recall having seen a photo of her at that point..I smiled and said hi and went away a little puzzled. I soon found out who she was by mingling and had to go back and apologize to her for not giving her a warmer reception since we had chatted on Facebook a number of times already. She was good natured about it though. I met up with Lynn Ames the first night so we could hang out and talk some. We’d interacted some via email and knew that we already had some common interests so we were looking forward to getting to chat in person. That trip we had several lengthy interactions and built a solid foundation for the strong friendship that has continued. I met a lot of other awesome authors, but another one that was noteworthy was meeting Lee Lynch. When our eyes met, it was like I was seeing an old friend again. Only I’d never met her and the books of hers I’d read were from years ago. However, I recognized her from Facebook and introduced myself. I still suspect that I know her from a past life because it was one of those uncanny “first meetings.”
Although I was a con virgin, I was made to feel very welcome and was even asked to be on a panel for self-published authors. I was delighted to share with others my experiences in the publishing world, and it offered me a chance to introduce myself to a few more people. While I enjoyed all the panels and various meetings I attended, my favorite events were the author chats. I love hearing about the writing process with these other authors. My favorite social gathering was the dance. Since I had been dealing with an old back injury a lot more in recent years, I was doubtful that I’d be able to dance much, but the music and the energy were too much to deny, so I danced as much as my back and hip would allow and stayed until the end of the dance. I went away from that con, knowing that I’d be heading to Minneapolis the following year, if there were any way possible and fortunately it was possible, although a little complicated.
My Post-GCLS Con Experience 2012
It’s strange to move back into regular life after the GCLS conventions. My post-con experience is different this time because I had to drive so much for so many days to get back home. Last summer I was living in the Orlando area, so there was no travel lag. I thought that I hadn’t been as affected this year, but not so. It is just taking longer to catch up. It’s hard to explain how different it feels to move through the world in the majority rather than the minority. Instead of being part of the 10% of the female population (approximately) that is lesbian, when we meet together in large groups for several days like that, we get to experience the world through the eyes of the majority. We get to slip out of being part of a marginalized group and move through the world temporarily as part of the core of it. I suspect that’s why all the festivals and gatherings are so popular and why so many (those who can afford it), go from gathering to gathering in order to continue feeling central to the world rather than marginalized. I suspect also that the reason Facebook is so popular is because it allows us to move out of the shadows on the fringe of society and into the light of full acceptance by our tribe. Yes, there are still minorities within this minority group. There are still “ghettos within the ghetto,” as I called it in Community Connections, the LGBT newspaper in Asheville, NC, back in the 1990s, after attending and reporting on the Lesbian Health Conference. I hope that has changed some and continues changing. I think it is changing on Facebook at least if not at the gatherings. I suspect that many lesbian gatherings are still far too white for most of our sisters of color. As in the 1990s when I first addressed this issue, I am still dreaming of a lesbian culture where color and ethnicity flow seamlessly into the tapestry of the larger group. Not in a way that dulls the richness of the variations, but in a way that allows each part of the tapestry to stand boldly highlighted as part of the larger picture. If we step back and view a masterful tapestry from afar, the richness of each part is revealed. Up close, we have such a limited perspective. May I always see the world–lesbian culture and our global village–as the overall tapestry, rather than as just a few threads here and there that serve my purposes.
Again I was able to attend a lot of panels and sessions. Probably the one that impacted me the most was the one on writing about older lesbians, which is something I’ve been wanting to address anyway and have begun to address in my Goddess series. The most notable social gathering for me was again the dance. I enjoy the award ceremonies, but the dances are not as formal and really break down barriers between us.
GCLS cons are such a refreshing immersion into lesbian and culture that I am left wanting the next con to be sooner than a year away. This year I was lucky that GCLS made a breakthrough at Women’s Week in Provincetown and had a signing/reading session there that I was also able to attend partially. I look forward to Dallas in 2013 and plan to attend that con too if at all possible. I want to keep attending the cons because of the opportunities to make and deepen friendships and to grow in the craft of writing. The atmosphere in a room full of lesbians always feels to be like a great big life and love-affirming hug. It’s good for the soul. I highly recommend it to all lesbians–writers and readers especially. I also recommend joining and supporting GCLS. They do so much more than just the cons and they are making series inroads into Women’s Week now as other lesbian businesses/groups are struggling. GCLS is rapidly becoming the glue that gives the lesbian literary community cohesiveness.
Beth Mitchum is the author of the novels: Driftwood, Higher Love, In My Dreams, The Diary of Allie Katz, Artemisian Artist, Gaia’s Guardian, and Demeter’s Daughter. She is also author of Slices of My Life: So far, Seen Dancing, and bethwor(l)ds: 20 years of poetry, Wor(l)ds of Love, Loss, and Longing, and Driftwood: the Music (CD). Beth is editor and contributing poet for Sappho’s Corner Poetry Series, Volume 1-3: Tulips Touching,Volume 1, Wet Violets, Volume 2, and Roses Read, Volume 3. She is the founder and owner of UltraVioletLove Publishing and the web mistress of a couple dozen web site/blogs.