author – activist – faculty – mom
Since attending BinderCon NY for the first time in 2015, I have been trying to put the magic of the experience into words. I makes sense that it would be after going to BinderCon LA that I would be able to identify the enchantment. Some people go to LA for Disneyland—that magical world where there are princesses and cartoon characters and no garbage and no maintenance workers. This is some people’s fantasy. I go to BinderCon because—for two whole days—I get treated like a white male writer.
At BinderCon I get taken seriously. Everyone is interested in what I’m writing, sees a bright future for my work, and wants to help me get there. Presenters want to give me the inside scoop, the hookup, the secret handshake. They carefully consider my work and give thoughtful suggestions. The organizers put me on panels, and the attendees respect my expertise. They think I have something amazing to offer, and ask respectfully for contact information. The work of good writing isn’t easy for anyone, not even white men. However, the business of writing—the networking, the mentoring, the mutual support between colleagues—is so male and white-dominated, that BinderCon it is like Nirvana for me.
Which also explains why their trans inclusion policy is so fabulous. It’s a conference for women and gender non-conforming folks, based on the fact that trans folks (whether they identify as male, female, both, or neither) generally don’t benefit from male privilege. This is the explicit understanding that the community is a mutually supportive space for those who don’t get that old boy network leg up.
There is, of course, one particular challenging reality about our lives as women that doesn’t magically disappear while at BinderCon: motherhood. In past years, there has been some controversy about how to make the conference fully accessible to moms. On the surface, it seems like a simple yes/no proposition: yes, moms should be accommodated. In reality, however, it has proven much more challenging. As moms, we face the reality every day that our labor is uncompensated and because motherhood is intimate labor, it’s not like you can just call in sick or a request a sub. It is in this question of access for moms that BinderCon hits up against the painful reality that we are not male writers. Our children, unlike jobs, adult relationships and other responsibilities, can’t be put on pause for a weekend. How much those parenting responsibilities affect our ability to participate depends upon whether we have nursing infants, toddlers, preschoolers, elementary schoolers, or teens. It varies according to our income, our family structure, whether or not we are single moms, the division of parenting labor in our families, our support networks, our geographical proximity to the conference, our parenting style, the number of children in our family, our kids’ temperament, special needs, and an infinite number of other factors.
Controversy about the inclusion of children never comes up at male-dominated conferences, because the society has delegated all the responsibility for reproductive and parenting to women. This isn’t to say that some men don’t engage in the labor of parenting or that they don’t face other parenting challenges. But the culture has designated that for men—as a class—this labor is optional. And for women—as a class—this labor is our responsibility, by default. In reality, however, the labor of parenting is only one facet of the emotional labor that women are designated to do for our society. So whether we choose to parent or not, the demands for parenting-type labor are ongoing in most women’s lives. Men, on the other hand, are neither conditioned to do that labor, nor is the society conditioned to expect such labor of them. So men are able to partake in the joys of fatherhood without their creative or professional lives being compromised in the same ways that women experience.
Which is why the inclusion of children in BinderCon is so controversial. How do we balance the need for women writers to be free to fully focus on our professional lives (like men do when they are at conferences), and how do we include women for whom that type of total freedom is out of reach for a weekend (or even the length of a panel). I attended the town hall meeting on their attendance policy, and was really impressed by the incredible lengths to which BinderCon organizers had worked to include and accommodate moms in the information gathering, planning, and conversation for inclusion. I was also impressed by the due diligence of organizers in researching effective models for child care and accommodation in other conferences.
While the issue is far from solved, I appreciate the thoughtfulness of the organizers into working on the policy and the high level challenge of meeting so many participants’ conflicting needs. Meanwhile, as the board continues to finalize the policy changes, they offer $250 childcare stipends to participating moms who need it. This was quite a contrast to my own workplace, UC Berkeley. I got a grant to travel to another conference, and wrote childcare into the grant proposal. The committee approved it, but the university refused to pay for that expense.
I am someone whose motherhood responsibilities kept me from going to the first two BinderCons. I recall, in March 2015, laying in bed as my daughter slept beside me, longing to be able to get away for a weekend and go to BinderCon LA. I was so obsessed with it, I created a series of Disney princess memes.
Reading through the BinderCon tweets for that 2015 conference, I could tell that this was my tribe. These diverse, badass, ambitious writer women who were hell-bent on creating a girl’s network to help us all succeed. I never felt isolated as a black/Latinx writer, and racial inclusion is just one of the aspects of diversity and inclusion that they are carefully tracking and supporting.
I don’t actually want to be a white male writer, but I totally envy their privilege. It’s lovely to briefly live the fantasy episode of my life with writing in the center of it, with racism and sexism temporarily suspended. Like I said, BinderCon is my version of Disneyland.