14 July 2010

Conference Report: NOLOSE 2010

It's over a month since NOLOSE and I'm still overwhelmed by the experience. When people ask me how it was I have no way of answering. Words like 'intense' and 'amazing' seem about right but they don't really come close. I thought I'd use this blog post to process it a little and yeah, it's personal. NOLOSE is different for everyone and this is a bit of what it was like for me.

This was the first time, perhaps ever, I'm not sure, that NOLOSE was held on the West Coast of the United States. This was a significant shift because California is the motherlode for fat queer, trans and dyke culture and many superfat Nolosers live there. It's also perpetually sunny, and the location helped make it possible for us to have a whole accessible venue to ourselves. It was also the busiest NOLOSE I've seen, and the one with the most diverse crowd.

During the course of the conference the Oakland Airport Econolodge became Fatlandia, a kind of utopia. The pool was rarely empty, the meeting rooms were named after fat animals ("I'll see you in Manatee!"), friends and loves from far-flung places got to spend time with each other, and it was like a little temporary village of rad fatness, and there was a lot of joy. A week later I heard that Luscious had died suddenly. Part of what is making NOLOSE hard to process is thinking about Luscious' presence there. For me, this NOLOSE has become idealised in the sunshine, like a space before the Fall. It's very difficult to think about, so I'll focus on the concrete things first.

Katie LeBesco interviewed me for a documentary she's making. She asked hard questions! I think it's going to be a great piece of work, be very excited about its release. It was fun bumping into Linda Bacon as I walked on the set, and Esther Rothblum as I left, and so flattering to be represented as a peer to these legendary authors and activists.

I chose to do workshops that were about feeling embodied, rather than discussion-based activities. This is partly because for the last few months I've been stuck at my desk and I had a real itch to move and feel connected to my flesh. So there was synchronised swimming; a bunch of us learned the Thriller dance ('give new meaning to the term "morbid obesity'") which we later sprung on an unsuspecting audience at the dance; I meditated with my belly out; threw myself around at the deranged Master of Dance session; and participated in Nomy Lamm's beautiful and unforgettable Singing As Social Justice workshop.

My activities included a workshop, a co-chairing the keynote panel, reading at Queer Memoir, and working at the Den of Desire, a fat activist brothel. (Yes, you read that right, and I'll write more about this some other time). I really loved Galadriel Mozee's keynote presentation during the panel. She talked about the food justice movement from a radical fat perspective, one which is often overlooked within a paradigm that tends to demonise obesity. It was also a pleasure to hear Deb Burgard speak, I've been a fan of hers for a long time and it was great to hear her debunking healthism within the fat rights movement.

Our own workshop was another highlight. A large group of us constructed a queer and trans fat activist timeline together. We pasted it up on the wall and people added their own memories of significant historic events. Some people gave oral accounts which I recorded. This timeline will form the basis of a zine which will be archived around the world. People are so cut off from the history of the movement, I want to do something to rectify that situation. It was wonderful to see activists of different generations all adding their work to the timeline. The earlier years were fairly sparse, but the last decade has seen an explosion of activity. It was very exciting and inspiring to see it all forming before our very eyes.

Through sheer exhaustion I missed the discussion about extending NOLOSE to cisgendered queer men, a stretching workshop, a session by Nancy Thomas who was involved with the historic FAT LIP Reader's Theatre, the Mixed-Size Relationship Caucus, and the play party. Ach. But I managed to catch Elana Dykewomon reading The Real Fat Woman Poems, and I stayed for the community meeting at the end. There were also group meals, schmoozing, dancing and performances, and times hanging out with some of the most amazing people in the world.

And then it was over. One minute I was jumping for joy and hugging people I hadn't seen for ages, the next we were all dispersed. It's so strange how Fatlandia feels like the norm when you're in its midst, as though life is always like this, and when it's no longer there you can't help but feel bereft. Some people stayed in the motel after the conference was over and they said it was like a ghost town. For me, it all feels like a funny dream.

Past NOLOSE conferences have given me a massive boost, like a dose of something strong that enables me to function in the real world. This one felt more complicated and mellow than that, perhaps it was because I was busy, or that there were simply a lot of complex dynamics going on. This was my fourth conference, so perhaps I am just becoming more seasoned, or at least more aware of the politics and business that goes on behind the scenes. Having said that, it's still a thrill to see new people getting into it and loving the space, especially international delegates. It still takes my breath away, and I still treasure those moments that can happen here but which are unlikely to happen anywhere else. I think it is a vital event, life-affirming and life-changing, and I will keep going and supporting it for as long as I can.

By the way, the NOLOSE Board is recruiting new members. Get in touch through the website, sign up, volunteer, join in, help make it good.


Deborah said...

Did Nolose lose their domain?

Charlotte Cooper said...

Uh-oh, it looks like it.

Ally said...

Holy Shizbolah, this looks amazing. Am really interested to hear more about the Den of Desire.

Charlotte Cooper said...

Yeah, I'm writing about it and hopefully others will come forward with accounts too.