Trying to find them in person was an interesting challenge, because I had never seen a photograph of more than a fraction of q10's face and had never seen any photograph of carnap at all. I also was not sure whether other people might be with them (there were some "maybe" RSVPs) so I couldn't even rely on the number of people in the group as a clue. Also I don't have a cellphone at the moment and therefore couldn't text them to ask where they were. I did have a general visual description to work from, including a clue to look for purple shoelaces. I arrived about five minutes early (actually I arrived half an hour early, but I used 25 minutes of it to find a parking spot and walk from the parking spot to the cafe) and went inside, looked around, and decided that no one in the cafe seemed likely to be them. I was only about 95% sure about this, but I went back outside and waited for them outside anyway, hoping that they weren't actually indoors after all. I ended up not needing to recognize them; q10 recognized me from across the street. Hooray! I am findable.
First impression: q10 seems significantly younger, tinier, and more delicate-looking than I was expecting. Which means my expectations were silly, since I already knew their actual age and their actual height. I think I'm in the habit of expecting professors to seem visually imposing and authoritative. Which apparently equates to tall, large, and old. This is clearly all sorts of problematic. Can someone deprogram me, please?
Second impression: I have rarely been so decisively the least nerdy person at a table of more than two people. Even when I've been at tables of people with Ph.D.s, I've sometimes found them not to be convincingly nerdier than me. This time, though, I felt out-nerded. My sense of identity was mildly shaken.
Third impression: Oh, I understand the social dynamics here! We are doing introverted social awkwardness with heavy academic overtones and an intense sprinkling of feminist/transgender theory. Got it! I am totally at home here!
And so I remained totally at home there for the rest of the evening.
We were at the Saturn Cafe, a vegetarian diner with a '50s retro theme, and we were seated at a table that q10 aptly described as being "decorated with a patriarchy theme." Under the glass of the table was an array of makeup, curlers, and cosmetic tools of various types that baffled all of us, along with vintage 1950s advertisements for all of the above, and photographs of 1950s starlets, often wearing little clothing. And also a few random, inexplicable advertisements: one for sex toys, one for a medication for urinary tract infections, and one for a $29.95 portable radio (equivalent to $265 in today's dollars, carnap determined) that was described as having a golden "midriff." q10 wondered whether all the tables were decorated with a patriarchy theme or just ours; carnap investigated and determined that the other tables had different themes. He was unsure whether the other themes were any less horrifying. I wondered what exactly would be equivalently horrifying: perhaps nuclear bombs and Joseph McCarthy? Maybe there was a racism table somewhere. I suppose we'll never know.
q10 generously bought dinner and dessert for all of us. Dinner was good, and dessert was better. Dessert was interesting! Dessert was vegan. Well, carnap's dessert was only accidentally vegan; he ordered the non-vegan version and received the vegan version by mistake. My dessert was intentionally vegan, because I wanted to know what a vegan sundae would taste like, and also because lactose and I don't get along well anymore. We all agreed that the vegan whipped cream bore no resemblance at all to real whipped cream, beyond being white and sugary, but that it was very good despite being nothing like whipped cream. The vegan ice cream did actually strongly resemble ice cream, much more than the few storebought vegan ice creams I've previously tried ever did. Smothering it in chocolate sauce and vegan whipped cream probably helped.
Anyway, it was a delightful evening, and I was glad of the chance to meet q10, and for that matter also carnap. It was completely worth driving to Berkeley for! If any of the rest of you want to visit someplace two hours away from me, I'd be up for driving two hours to meet you, too.
I've been thinking a lot afterward - provoked by my second impression above - about how I view my role in relation to academia. I'm not an academic, obviously, and I don't particularly want to be an academic; yet I do want, and to some extent feel like I have, a role to play in relation to academia. I perceive my role in regard to queer by choice issues to be largely that of a translator, translating what academics are already writing in queer theory books from the almost impenetrably dense academic language of those books into a language that ordinary, non-academic people can actually understand. I consider myself pretty good at understanding academic language, but it isn't a language I've ever really made much effort at writing in myself. Writing in it doesn't interest me. But I think I'm pretty good at translating it to ordinary language. My professional specialty is in assessing what grade level a given block of text is appropriate for (often using various references and tools in addition to my own judgment) and adjusting it to be more appropriate for any desired grade level from kindergarten (for which you can hardly ever write complete sentences of even the simplest sort) through 12th grade (for which you can almost just write like a normal human being and not stop to evaluate whether your words are too difficult for them, except there are still a few surprising words that turn out to be beyond them, so you have to stop yourself occasionally and rewrite things). My personal interest is in trying to be comprehensible to more people, because I like being understood, and I seem not to be a very easy person for most people to understand, so it's been necessary for me to try harder than most people need to to figure out how to explain myself as clearly as I can. Which means I don't want to speak in academic language. But lately I've gone a while without reading much of it, and if I'm a translator, it probably behooves me to stay in practice.