Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Edith Stein Conference

I’m just getting back into the saddle after the Notre Dame gig – I spoke last Saturday at the Edith Stein Conference. I have too much to say about the experience to put it in one post, so I’ll be blogging about it over the next couple of days. I’ll begin with a basic run-down of what happened, and later give some reflections on different aspects of the affair.

Basically, I drove (or rather, my husband drove and I entertained Barbara, who is just short of nine months old, in the back-seat) down to South Bend on Friday. We were stopped at the US Border, and we were terrified that they wouldn’t let us through because my husband’s passport expired last September. As it turned out, they didn’t care about (didn’t notice?) the expired passport, but they were worried that I might be getting paid by Notre Dame and that the IRS might not be getting their cut. I refrained from quoting Canada/US tax treaty law at them (never be snarky to a US Border guard) and assured them that I was not being compensated for more than my travel expenses. Eventually, they let us through.

We arrived at the conference Saturday morning around lunch-time and I wandered around feeling profoundly stressed out and terrified. I had written about four different versions of the talk, and I wasn’t happy with any of them, most of them were half-finished and they were on all of these scattered sheets of paper that were in a totally disorganized jumble in a notebook. That wasn’t why I was terrified though; I was terrified because speaking in front of a group of people inevitably means contact with other human beings who I don’t know, and I am painfully shy and socially awkward. The last time I gave a talk at a University I literally ran away afterwards, as quickly as possible, in the hopes that no one would chase me down and try to converse with me.

In spite of the fact that my stomach was tying itself into the sort of elaborate knots that will earn you a girl-scouts badge, I managed to eat a small bowl of chili, and then headed over to the auditorium where I was going to speak. In the front hall of said building, there was a demonstration, a “reading of queer poetry” to protest my appearance. The poetry was embarrassingly bad, and thoroughly scandalized the mostly-traditional-Catholic audience who repeatedly described it as “obscene.” (I will return to the matter of ill-thought-out protest actions later.) Anyways, the point was that they were handing out little bits of paper that said why they were there, and what they thought I was going to say that they were so upset about. To me, it was a God-send, because I immediately realized that I could use their protest leaflet as a superior outline for my presentation.

I went to a back room and started restructuring while the organizers fluttered around apologizing for the protest and wondering whether they should call security. I tried to explain that having the protest removed would be very bad for queer-Catholic relations on campus, that no harm was being done, and that I wasn’t frightened of the protesters, which is true. Protesters I can understand. I’ve been a protester. It’s the Catholic audience that scares me. I’ll explain that later.

So I gave my talk. The focus was on how Catholics can/can’t reach out to homosexual people. The basic premise of the talk was “I don’t love gay people, I love...” fill in the names of individuals who happen to be gay identified or same-sex attracted. Basically the whole “you can’t hate the sin vociferously from every mountain top, and only love the sinner in the theological abstract” schtick. It seemed to go down well with the LGBT crowd – several of the protest organizers came up after the talk and thanked me for having come, which I think is as good as could be hoped for.

Tomorrow, I’ll probably blog about the protest thing.

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