Andrea Gibson is the keynote speaker at this year’s Women’s Studies Conference organized by the UWF Women’s Studies Collective. The conference is in its seventeenth year and the organizers are trying to welcome as many people as possible.
Here’s Maggie Crain, co-president of the Women’s Studies Collective.
“We thought it was a great opportunity to bring in someone that wasn’t necessarily an academic because their work is so practical and it’s real life. We’re trying to move away from the very stodgy ‘this is our ivory tower, this is where we do our academic, this is where we do our scholarly things’ and making it more applicable.”
The conference isn’t just for women or for people who identify as feminist. Both Maggie Crain and speaker Andrea Gibson stress the importance of taking the time to listen and learn from a plurality of viewpoints.
“Everyone should come to the conference because we’re hoping everyone can come in with maybe a perspective, we would love for you to come in and walk away from the conference, you don’t have to agree with us, but just knowing a little more about who is being represented here, makes all the difference.”
Andrea Gibson adds, “I think that, whatever you believe you don’t want that belief to be strengthened by having no exposure to other beliefs. I don’t think people put enough value on how important it is, you know, just for our own well being to be exposed to new things and to be wiling to be rattled by what, in us, is capable of changing.”
On Friday research by UWF students will be presented in workshops all day at the UWF conference center. Andrea Gibson will deliver a keynote performance at 6:00 p.m. Friday evening and also a workshop on gender theory on Saturday. The workshop will be interactive and have participants writing their own poems, but Gibson reminds potential attendees that you don’t have to be a writer to go!
“I mean anybody who loves writing or loves learning new things or anybody who is fascinated or interested in gender or anybody who thinks that they aren’t at all. The discussions can be really fun and they can be even more fun if somebody comes and they have wildly different opinions than I do because I think that those are the conversations that are needing to be had.”
The Friday keynote will be part of Gibson’s ‘Hey Galaxy’ tour promoting their new album of spoken word poems. I asked Gibson what they plan to discuss.
“I talk a lot in my writing about patriarchy, sort of been tearing that down lately. I’ve been really inspired by the #metoo movement and I’ll also be speaking about that. I plan to discuss queerness, I plan to discuss feminism. I plan to discuss our vibrance, our joy, our despair, talking a lot about, you know, grief, and sort of leaning into the grief and not be afraid of it.”
Gibson identifies as genderqueer and discusses their gender identity along with experiences of love, anxiety, and hope.
“Somebody said genderqueer to me for the first time and up until that point I had never even been given the language. in connection with poetry the more language you that you get the more language that you get the more you can learn yourself and know yourself. As soon as I heard the word genderqueer I thought, ‘wow that feels like it fits.’ Several years later it started being more common in culture for people to use a pronoun other than ‘he’ or ‘she’ to match their nonbinary identity and when I started using that pronoun it just felt like someone saying my name right for the first time.”
Organizers know even words like genderqueer can make some people uncomfortable and they hope to lean into that discomfort and examine it.
“Fear of the unknown is so big in this sort of discussion, when people Andrea Gibson and they hear us referring to them as nonbinary that might terrify you, ‘Someone that’s nonbinary? They go by they/them? What is that?’ Coming in and learning to talk about those things is just the first step in moving toward a less divisive society.”
The conference Friday is 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the UWF Conference Center with panels all day and Andrea Gibson's keynote at 6 p.m. The conference and workshop Saturday (10:00 a.m. Argo Athletic Club) are both free and open to the public but registration is requested. You can register HERE.
Below is the extended version of this interview.