Out of place, out of time, out of date?

There are a lot of things I want to write about – I have a dozen sketched-out blog posts waiting in the wings, but some of them are on quite big topics, and I’ll need a bit of time to do the necessary research. Because I plan to spend the whole of November doing something very different with this blog, I just want to get this one post from my backlog out of the way today.

Thrice recently (ish) I have had feelings of not fitting in – for different reasons. (I rarely get to use the word thrice! I wish there were a similar word for ‘four times’ too.)

An academic conference in Edinburgh

I gatecrashed the Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig conference here in Edinburgh at the end of August. I’ve been before, and there are usually a few interesting talks, but it’s only tangentially related to my own research (which I’m not actively pursuing right now anyway). Rannsachadh na Gàidhlig literally means ‘Gaelic research’, and the conference covers everything from social history to literature to language revitalisation to linguistics. Much of it is conducted in Gaelic.

Because I was slow to make up my mind to go, I left it too late to book a place officially. But I think I’d been along to a previous Edinburgh incarnation of the conference under similar circumstances, and I knew there would be plenty of familiar faces, as Gaelic research is a relatively small field. So when I turned up I was the odd one out in not having a lanyard with my name on it. But I pretended I was meant to be there and helped myself to free coffee and went to a few seminars over the course of three days. Back-to-back seminars in Gaelic proved pretty intense for someone who hasn’t had regular exposure to the language for a while, and I’m afraid I quickly opted for English when talking to people at breaks.

There were some good seminars, but the networking (well, talking to people) proved particularly excruciating. Well, to be honest, it always does, but this time there was the added complication of seeing people I knew who hadn’t seen me as Anna before. Some of them knew that I had transitioned, because I had emailed a lot of them when I changed my name. Some probably didn’t know about my transition, and of course there were plenty of people there who I didn’t know (or had only met in passing before).

I was acknowledged by three people, which was good. One was very busy, and just greeted me as he dashed from one duty to the next. The others chatted to me during breaks, and both seemed relatively unfazed by my transition. At the other extreme, there were a couple of people I hadn’t expected to see, who possibly didn’t know that I had transitioned. Weirdly both of them completely blanked me and walked past me –repeatedly – despite my best efforts to do a friendly pre-greeting smile (about as much as I dare to do without getting something back).

Oddest of all, though, was the one person I wanted to speak to, since she was one of those who had responded to my original email message, yet who completely failed to acknowledge my presence. I attempted in vain to speak to her over the course of the three days.

Somehow I had become invisible. I wondered whether I could really feel comfortable again as part of the wider Gaelic research community.

A professional conference in Lancaster

Just over a week later, I was in Lancaster, as a delegate at the annual conference of the Society for Editors and Proofreaders (SfEP), which I decided to attend this year as it wasn’t too far from Edinburgh, and I thought it would be useful to keep a foot in that world. I hadn’t been to one of these conferences since transitioning either, though I had met a number of my editorial colleagues at a smaller, local conference.

In Lancaster I had no problems with people I’d never met before (and there were a lot of them). There were, however, a handful of people I knew fairly well who seemed to treat me as a completely new person, which was weird, to say the least. One person, for instance, asked if it was my first conference and I said no, I’d been going for years. I even pointed out that we had spoken before. (In fact, we’d both delivered training sessions to one another in the past and had had lengthy exchanges in online forums!) He still didn’t work out who I was – just said something about coming across a lot of people and not remembering names and faces. I had no particular desire to enlighten him.

It would have been a much more comfortable conference than the Edinburgh one if it hadn’t been for the appalling acoustics of the venue. Whenever we had time to talk to one another, it was against a backdrop of cacophony. It was like trying to hear the call of a single kittiwake in the middle of a vast seabird colony. Incredibly draining!

The sessions I attended were good, though, and one was outstanding – a session by Sarah Grey on inclusive editing, which (like other sessions) I livetweeted. Unfortunately, her talk, right at the end of the conference, started late and had to be cut short, though it could so easily have been twice as long – it’s a topic well worth revisiting in future conferences, I think.

Powerpoint slide: changing language (pre-movement, through fighting for change, to expanding identities)
A slide from Sarah Grey’s talk on inclusive language at SfEP 2018

I wasn’t invisible at this conference. (I had my lanyard, after all!) But I found the near-constant noise almost unbearable, and it was such a relief to get away from the venue after a couple of days and sit quietly in an Italian restaurant on my own before catching my evening train home (even if the waiter did misgender me).

A welcome session for tutors in Edinburgh

Just over a week after that, I was back at Edinburgh University, not to restart my PhD, which is still interrupted, but to slowly ease myself back into academic life with some tutoring – for an MSc course on syntax.

Before I delivered a single tutorial, I had to attend a few introductory sessions (required for new and returning postgraduate tutors). Not having been around the university much in the last couple of years, a lot of people I had known before had moved on, and there was actually only one person that I recognised among the tutors. That made me feel a little out of touch. That and the fact that I might well have been the only person there not in their twenties (!). So while other people caught up with friends and chatted to people from their subject areas, I sat alone.

Tutorials have gone well since then, but at the time I felt so out of place and wasn’t sure that I’d be able to cope as a tutor. Luckily for me, I have a friendly and diverse bunch of students in my two classes.

I mentioned that I’d be doing something different with the blog during November. Just before I created transponderings right at the end of 2017, I announced my intention on Twitter – so that I wouldn’t be able to talk myself out of it so easily. And it happened. One thing I thought I might do here was write some fiction, but so far that hasn’t happened. And I’ve always wanted to write something novel-ish in length. So a few days ago I announced on Twitter that I’d be writing a serialised novel(la) of some sort here on my blog during the month of November. So it’s going to happen. I think. Starting tomorrow.

Update (1 November): The first chapter still needs some work, but it’s coming. Honest!