My plan for the conference was simple. I would casually bump into a literary agent who would immediately recognize me and sign me up on the spot. It would be exactly like those old black and white movies where the film director, innocently sipping his coffee, is suddenly struck by the beauty of the young waitress framed in soft-focus and shouts "Kid, where have you been all of my life?" but with fewer sexual undertones and more color. I had business cards imprinted with my website address. I was prepared.
The target market for the conference was women, which didn't faze me because A) aside from lesbians, we tend to like the same things (penises) B) The gaggle of literary agents would all ask "Who's that man?" and most importantly C) My shy bladder could escape to the quiet solitude of the men's restroom.
Here is something you should know if you are one of the few men at a women's conference. You have the uneasy sense that there is something stuck between your teeth, but that thing is not in your teeth, it's approximately two feet below. I might have been more comfortable in drag, but my husband Paul always told me that I would make an ugly woman. I wasn't willing to take that risk.
You should also know that these women are serious about promoting their blogs. In fact they become their blogs.
"I'm Mommy needs Xanax. What's your platform?" A disheveled woman in her late forties asked me.
I searched my business card as if it might have the answer written on it.
"You must have a platform. Without it you're nothing. NOTHING" she said impatiently.
"I was chosen as a 'voice of the year'," I replied, confident that this would trump the lack of a platform.
"Oh, you wrote that piece about the beige coat!" She perked up.
"No, someone else wrote that. I wrote about the two lesbians."
"Doesn't ring a bell, but that one about the beige coat, yeah that one was really good."
"Thank you," I replied accepting the award on behalf of whatshisname. I considered asking her for a Xanax, just to smooth out the edges.
During the question and answer period women confidently stepped up to the microphone and asked the only question that seemed to matter.
"Hi, Mommy needs Vodka here," a young perky woman introduced herself and took a quick curtsy while the other women whispered "That's her!"
"How do I market my platform?" she asked the speaker.
One by one, Martinis and Minivans, Mama Loves Moonshine, Margarita Mommies, Mommy is Moody and Mental Mama all probed the speaker for insight into their brands. If one thing was certain, they all had a platform, even if it was a rickety thing propped up with liquor and broken dreams.
I retreated to the men's restroom and met Terrell, a maintenance worker leaning against the sink staring into his reflection.
"Tough day?" I asked
"Man, you have no idea. All these women. They a mess!" he replied
Just then, we heard a woman, I can only assume it was Mommy Needs to Pee, shout into the bathroom "Anybody in here?" Terrell's eyes grew big as an army of women stormed the men's room.
"Sorry, line's too long in the ladies room," Mommy Has a UTI shouted as I quickly zipped up my fly. Terrell ran.
By the end of the day it was clear that without a platform I was never going to attract an agent. Somewhat dejected I joined thousands of women in a large hotel ballroom with a small illuminated stage on one end and endless rows of seats. There was a buzz and excitement in the air. Queen Latifah would soon appear to host the reception and recognize the "Voices of the Year."
Time dragged on. The Queen was M.I.A. and the excitement was beginning to morph into disappointment and frustration. The hash tag #WhereTheBitchAt? was trending. I searched the room for exits, having witnessed firsthand the stampede effect of impatient women.
Suddenly the lights grew dim and music filled the room. Queen Latifah sauntered onto the stage, dabbing her lips with a napkin and shouting something about Chicago's best pizza. The room exploded into applause and screams. And that is when it struck me. If I were to dress in drag, this is exactly how I would do it; all big hair, flawless skin and swagger. I'd take my sweet ass time eating pizza while people waited for me. My stage name would be Billoncé.
And then I was on my feet applauding.
There in the dark, women stood on the platform and weaved stories of despair, happiness, laughter, love and joy that joined together forming a chorus of life discovered through words. There in the dark we were all the same-no big hair, make up or any other trappings. There in the dark, I found my light, my platform "The only way out is in." Into that place where we all connect, singing of that thing that makes us human, authentic.
Finally the Queen asked all of the winners to "get their asses" onto the stage with her. Here was my chance to be noticed. As I walked onto the stage Outlaw Mama grabbed my hand whispered into my ear "You should be up front" and pushed me into the spotlight. There amid all of the flashing camera lights and applause, Queen Latifah glanced over her shoulder in my direction. And it was exactly like one of those old black and white movies where the glamorous actress notices the young undiscovered writer, arches her beautiful eyebrow and mouths the words meant only for him.
"What the fuck is that man doing all up on my platform?"
This post appeared originally appeared in a slightly modified version on William Dameron's personal blog The Authentic Life.
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