A week ago, I went to Slut Walk (http://www.slutwalksfbay.org/). Slut Walk is a rally and march challenging the idea that women (or other people) who “dress slutty” are asking to be raped, or that, if they’re not asking for it, they’re at least being unwise, because it’s “inevitable” that they’ll attract negative attention.
Slut Walk started off with a few scheduled speakers: Carol Queen, some other local notables. Then the crowd marched from Dolores Park, through the Castro, to Officer Jane Plaza, where they held a second, open-mike (open-megaphone?) rally. Some speakers were clearly used to public speaking. Others admitted their nervousness, and the crowd cheered them on.
A handful of years ago, I wanted to get comfortable speaking in front of a crowd. I considered toastmasters, but it didn’t really appeal to me. I considered classes or a coach, but that seemed like too much money. So instead I started teaching workshops. I’d already taught some – training wilderness leaders, mostly – and I was ok in front of a room of people who knew less than me. But standing at the front of a hotel conference room, in front of a mix of people, some of whom knew more than me on the subject, was sufficiently daunting. But the workshop audiences were low-stakes. It wasn’t for work. It was people who wanted to be there to listen to me. It wasn’t a competitive environment like an academic conference. It wasn’t an easy next step, but it was a manageable challenge. And it worked. I started teaching workshops, and along the way I figured out how to teach and how to be comfortable teaching.
Recently, I’ve been wanting to get more comfortable with a microphone. Giving a speech, running an event, doing a fundraising ask. So I figured the same jump-in-and-swim approach might work.
The crowd at Slutwalk seemed friendly. A few speakers admitted their own nervousness, and the crowded cheered their encouragement. The organizers kept inviting folks to speak. I kept chickening out. And then they announced that they could only take three more people. And I walked up and asked to be put on the list, half hoping they’d already gotten their last three in the time it took me to get to the front. But they had only gotten two, and I suddenly had the honor of speaking last.
As the two ahead of me spoke, I rehearsed in my head. I started off, “I”m proud to be a slut!” and waited for the crowd to cheer. And they did. I continued “I’m proud to be a woman!” And they cheered again. “I’m proud to be queer!” One more cheer. I talked for a minute or so about how slut-shaming acts as a way to control women’s (and others’) options in life, how it acts to restrict their clothing, their movement, their sexuality, their freedom. I talked about how advice that begins, “You’ll be safer if you don’t ___” is still controlling, even when it masquerades as concern for our welfare. I didn’t quite know how to end it. I hadn’t gotten that far in the three-minute rehearsal in my head. I was grateful that the speaker before me had given a lengthy and eloquent speech on intersections of oppression, on how violence crosses all lines, and how being liberal doesn’t protect people from domestic and sexual violence.
I spoke for probably a minute, though I couldn’t swear to that. The stage fright erased my sense of time and my memory of what I said. I said something to finish and handed the megaphone over to the organizer. I had been aiming for “not a disaster” and left feeling like I’d met my goal.
In the last week, three different people have come up to me and introduced themselves, saying they saw me speak at Slutwalk and that they thought I did a great job. One was an attendee, the second was one of the organizers. The third, this morning, came up to me on the BART platform, thanked me for speaking, and introduced herself as the founder of Slutwalk SF.
I’ve had this beard for over four years. And I still forget how memorable it makes me. I need to keep that in mind as I venture into speaking in front of crowds.