Feel free to start here: Thanks, Universe, for Fucking Shit Up
I didn’t sleep well on the night before my talk for the Simcoe County Violence Against Women Coordinating Committee Emerging Trends and Promising Practises conference in Barrie, Ontario. I don’t sleep well as a rule, but since the preceding 3+ days had been very full with work and other commitments, early mornings all, I had hoped I’d get in a sound sleep at last – but it was not meant to be.
I woke up earlier than I needed to and got dressed, keeping in mind I’d have a mic pack secured to my belt, and that I feel most comfortable when I am covered up in thick clothes. The drive to Liberty North was, according to my GPS, an hour and twenty-five minutes, and registration for the conference opened at 8:30am.
I love driving and especially love the highway 11 stretch. It’s so familiar to me and I’ve seen it through so many seasons that I felt very comfortable with the drive. In the days leading up to this, I’d had the conversation with my girlfriend Kai about her attending. In hopes of being able to do so, she took the afternoon off. However, I’d really wanted her there for the entire day, so when she told me she only had the afternoon, I balked – I’d wanted to go down and come back in the same vehicle; I’d wanted her there when I first went in so I’d have someone to talk to and keep me grounded. So we had a bit of a tiff over it – probably our biggest yet. Which, honestly, consisted of slightly less physical contact and mild pouts on both our faces while we tried to explain our respective positions. We talked afterward about what to call it, since it wasn’t even an argument. Basically, we’d had sad feelings at each other.
The night before, however, I officially Invited her to come even though she couldn’t make the morning. I wanted her there to watch me speak, and I’d had the privilege to see her speak a few times about her mother’s experience with medical assistance in dying. She accepted and would come in the afternoon.
On the drive down to Barrie, I blasted Kesha’s new album Rainbow, which, if you haven’t heard it, is profoundly powerful. I especially like Praying and Rainbow. Praying finally gave me words to describe how I feel about abusers – I won’t forgive you, maybe your higher power can, but only if you get on your knees and pray – and fucking mean it. Read up on her story if you wonder why I connect with her so much.
I was singing along so vociferously that I worried about losing my voice, so I’d tone it down only for the next song to come on and have me wailing out again.
I got to Liberty North in plenty of time, and connected with Meghan. I got a little ‘self-care’ gift bag – and I won’t apologize, the swag bags are one of my favourite parts of attending professional conferences. I love the tissues, the gum, the tea bags, even the business cards.
I decided to sit at the front of the room because I could tell that everyone at the occupied tables already knew each other. I put down my stuff and accosted the ‘sound guy’. We set up my borrowed mic (thank you, Nancy!) and I’m glad he was there because even though I’d gotten a lesson from Nancy, and then another one from Kai on how the mic works, I still forgot to plug the belt pack into the ear piece and couldn’t figure it out. He gently showed me what to do, and then agreed when I made him promise not to tell anyone that I thought it would be THAT wireless.
When I returned to my seat, my table was occupied with, you guessed it, women who already knew each other. I felt very shy, high school shy – thank goodness for cell phones. Someone did introduce everyone to me, so I felt better after that. There was a woman who worked in probation as well as someone from the YWCA, so talked a lot about our respective jobs and challenges.
When the conference commenced, we all introduced ourselves and our agencies. I was the only one from out of the area of Simcoe County, but there’s still a lot of overlap with my community and Simcoe. In attendance were agencies like the Barrie Women’s Shelter, child advocacy groups, the Ontario Provincial Police, native women’s centres, and more. The ‘VAW’ in SCVAWCC stands for ‘violence against women’ so that was the field in attendance.
The first speakers were from Lakehead University and they spoke about the research they were doing into finding better ways to support the women and some men who make DV (domestic violence) calls to the OPP dispatch. I found that really interesting, especially as there were police present.
The second speaker was indeed a staff member of the OPP. I felt she was very defensive about the Unfounded exposé by the Globe and Mail (read my take on Unfounded), and I almost got a vibe that she felt the whole thing was unwarranted.
We paused for lunch and descended upon the build-your-own taco bar, which was fucking awesome and so tasty! Only, it got my guts churning, but that was a problem for afternoon-Kathleen. My table-mates suggested a walk, so we went outside after eating, but it was sort of raining. I said I was going to do a quick lap around the building just to move, and one woman came with me, which was great. We talked about our work a bit and her journey into building a house on her property and living in a trailer with no hydro – and I brought up Kai, who of course lives completely off grid without power and has for almost two decades. It was a great talk and I was glad to get moving a bit.
Of course, the room was air-conditioned even though it was freezing out. Which I think is patriarchal bullshit because the only two men at the conference were wearing 3-piece suits, so of course they were comfortable, being generally warmer and more covered. And the 45 women in the room were suffering from ‘women’s clothing syndrome’: thinner, less coverage, with only the prepared wearing layers. I was chilled the entire day.
In the afternoon, we heard from a woman from Boost who works with service dogs that are present for children who go through the court process. She brought a very adorable and lackadaisical black lab with her. I think it’s a great program and I’d love to see it available for anyone who needed it. I’d like them in shelters as well, honestly.
The OPP officer also went back up to answer questions and it was a bit of a hot seat, which I think is good. I don’t think we should just be taking police officers’ word for it that they are making improvements internally. I haven’t seen much accountability and I think they need more oversight from community agents – which, supposedly, is happening. But until the meeting minutes are public and I start to hear about more professional, trauma-informed treatment from the women I work with, it’s all accompanied by a huge grain of salt.
We took another break and I checked in with Kai, who had just arrived. It made me so happy to have her there – she looked gorgeous and has such a calm energy. I felt good about my talk – didn’t really have nerves and felt comfortable with the area. During the break she helped me with the mic, which would have been a little awkward to do by myself. She also recorded the talk, and although I walked off-camera a bunch there’s lots to work with.
I was a little bummed when the woman reading my bio from an iPad accidentally closed it somehow and didn’t read the entire thing. My bio showcases a lot of the current work I do with women, and I have all that info within it so I don’t have to talk about it in the content of the speech. So when I went up to begin my talk, I tried to remember a couple of the things that I knew had gotten left off, like my experience hosting herstories.
On the agenda, my talk is described as: Resilience, Power and Recovery: A Survivor’s Journey. I didn’t name it, but I like it. I began by thanking the agency, which I think was appropriate as the last speaker of the day. When I talk, I carry a little book that my friend Jenn created for me and within which are the pages of my speech. I don’t read it from the book but I certainly use it for prompting.
I felt the talk went really well. I had cut two pieces from the body of it only the night before because my read-through had been 37 minutes and was meant to be 30. I did this so that I could fit in two new anecdotes that I felt gave weight to my subject. I talk about the experiences I had with child sexual abuse and sexual assault, and interweave this telling with my resiliency, which for me was writing. At the end, I challenge service providers, including myself, to do better for victims and survivors based on what I learned from my own experiences.
At one point, I thought I was tangled in a cord or something, I felt something at my feet, so I interrupted myself to ask aloud if I was tripping, so that definitely made me laugh. A couple other little foibles and I think my ending is a little confrontational – which may not be a negative. Kai said the attendees were really rapt and I noticed myself that people seemed to be really engaged.
A few people stopped me to say kind words about my talk, mostly about how they related. That meant the world to me. Someone even flagged me down as I was about to drive away to tell me that in 17 years of doing front-line work, she had only disclosed that she had experienced abuse a couple times – and my talk made her rethink that policy and want to see if her decision to be vulnerable in the future would positively impact her clients. In my experience, it definitely does. It helps women see they aren’t alone. And that is such a huge relief. I know it was to me.
Another bonus was that a guy attending won a Starbucks card in a draw, and he gave it to me to thank me for sharing my story! Which is a PERFECT example how guys can make up for being members of the oppressor class. I mean, normally I say they need to donate, at minimum, the difference in money they get paid by benefiting from the wage gap. But I’ll take a Starbucks card any day. (And bonus bonus, when I registered the card, it had been in USD, so my $25 magically turned into $32!)
After we left the conference hall, Kai and I grabbed dinner at Noble Sushi, and I had a beer to chill out a bit since I’d been working so much in the preceding days and had been wound a little tight. The drive home felt great – with Kesha blaring once more. Back at the house, I really wanted to play Mass Effect because I’d recently come into possession of an xbox, so I accidentally stayed up until 1am playing and finally crashed so hard.
It’s been an odd and incredible journey, this intention to share my story. It’s great to feel heard and get feedback that my words make a difference. I’d love to continue doing this, and I have a lot more to say. So, please, dear reader, keep me in your thoughts to receive more opportunities to speak and learn. And thank you for reading my words.