Two years ago, I attended the South by Southwest Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas as part of the panel “Engaging the Queer Community.” Apparently it was the first of its kind in the conference’s two decade existence. This past week, I went down for my second panel, “Shipping and Subtext: The Lesbian Community Online,” and discovered that SXSW is getting gayer every year. Not only does the fest now have its own official LGBT meet-up, there are several other opportunities to congregate as a community at local bars and with organizations like the Austin Gay and Lesbian Film Festival (at their aptly named Steers & Queers gathering). And instead of being the only queer panel in 2012, there were three others of specific LGBT-interest.
Kate Messer of The Austin Chronicle’s Gay Place heads up the official LGBT meet-up
Not too strong of showing at a festival where there are hundreds of options, but promising, nonetheless.
First, I want to say that SXSW is not ignoring the gays — in fact, they strive for diversity. When panels are proposed and accepted, they ask you to qualify your panelists with how they will each bring something different from their backgrounds, including their gender, sexuality, ethnicity or anything else that might give a diverse perspective. They want us there and they want us involved, which is why both times I’ve proposed a panel, they’ve been among the first ones chosen. (If I can do it, so can you!)
Still, I’m kind of an anomaly at SXSW because yes, I’m a lesbian, but I also am a lesbian who works at a website that is for lesbians. Thus, my tract is very, very lesbian. There aren’t many others who identify as something LGBT that can say the same. What I mean is, I met a ton of queer-identifying people at SXSW, but they have jobs ranging from software developer to craft enthusiast to community moderator at a brand’s website. This dictates the sessions and parties they attend at a conference like this, where meeting other LGBT professionals in their field could happen, but they are probably most interested in finding out the latest in their chosen fields or passionate interest. It’s like we’re here, we’re queer, but we’re also techie-types with Twitter accounts so we want to know can we best use them to do what we’re doing on a daily basis — besides being gay, that is.
However, I am not alone in being the lesbianest lesbian at SXSW. I was able to meet Danielle and Kristen behind advice site EveryoneisGay.com after their panel on the start-up and success of their brand, which is a non-profit and also travels to high schools and college campuses. Their humor and know-how had everyone intrigued, and they handled questions about being two white lesbians without counseling qualifications with grace and flair. Thanks to AE reader Wendy for getting us all in this pic with her.
Kristen, me, Wendy and Danielle
I also met the dudes behind Unicorn Booty, a queer pop culture blog that pokes fun at the political and the just plain insane. They are looking for a female writer to add to their queer atmosphere, and I think they’d be super swell to work with. Check them out and shoot them an email if you think you get their tone.
At my own panel, my co-presenter Elisa Kreisinger and I talked about Faberry, Brittana, Calzona and other couplings that so many lesbians ship super hard. A full podcast of our presentation will be available soon, so you can hear what we had to say about subtext and what happens when it turns into maintext. We also showed Elisa’s new video remix that queers Mad Men‘s Don and Roger. Everyone loved it.
Speaking of TV, Lena Dunham was in attendance to show and discuss her new HBO show Girls, which I’ve had the pleasure of seeing the first three episodes. I found her in the HBO tent and asked (of course) if we’ll see lesbians on the show. She said around episode 7 we most certainly will, and if there’s a Season 2, even more! I was satisfied with that.
One of the coolest things I was able to do was attend a Huffington Post Women dinner, an invite-only event where there were three tables of randomly placed women bloggers who were asked to discuss what we want to see more of and less of online. (General consensus: Less about white male conservatives.) At my table was none other than Lisa Ling, who I spoke to about her OWN television series, Our America With Lisa Ling. I told her how much I enjoyed her episode on “Can You Pray the Gay Away?” which she said she had wanted to title “God’s Children.” She also alerted me to Hawaiian governor Laura Lingle who is apparently a lesbian who votes against gay marriage in her own state.
Also at that dinner was author/journalist Susan Orlean, who I was super jazzed about. I then proceeded to do the gayest thing ever and tell her my ex-girlfriend loved her. If you don’t know Susan by name, you might have seen Adaptation, the movie based on her real book The Orchid Thief in which Meryl Streep plays a fictionalized Orlean.
Dinners, parties and meet-ups are all networking opportunities at SXSW, but it can be hard to have conversations now that the festival is growing year by year. Not only is “interactive” so broad now that people from all kinds of brands, organizations, companies and startups are in attendance, but those who hold events try to outdo each other with DJs, rock bands and long lines to encourage exclusivity. Not exactly the best venue for chatting about source codes or social media applications, but you do your best in those atmospheres like you would at any other large, loud party.
Nonetheless, there is definite visibility for queer women at SXSW Interactive, and some cool out women I saw on panels or met in person include Nina Kester of Peanuts, the women of King is a Fink (creators of I Hate Tommy Finch), Sarah Shelton of MTV Act, Grace Dobush of F&W Publications, Kara Swisher of AllThingsD, Sam of ClubLezLife.com (which is an awesome site for finding lesbian events anywhere and everywhere), Jenny Wall of BLT and her coworker who you may recognize as Raimy Rosenduft of This Just Out fame. Here I am with Jenny, Raimy and filmmaker Amelia Tovey, who was part of the uber-awesome Embodiment project in 2010.
Amelia, Raimy and Jenny
Sam of ClubLezLife
And a special shout-out to readers Darla and Stephanie, who I am so glad I finally got to meet IRL.
As SXSW Interactive continues to grow even more massive every year, I hope the queer contingent will follow suit, even if its more subtle in how we’re included. Not everyone’s career has to do with how gay they are, but mine does, and I feel very welcome in the throes of it all. In fact, at the LGBT meet-up, I was talking with one of the aforementioned out women I met this year when we were approached by a man whose badge read “U.S. Marine.” He made some comment about the turnout of the meetup and we mentioned that it was over, which caused him to say “I thought it started at 5.” “Which meetup are you here for?” we asked. “The singles meetup,” he replied. “Oh, well this was the LGBT meetup,” we said, “but it should be over.” He responded, “That’s too bad — you guys always bring the party.” True that.