Saturday, November 10, 2012

Southern Comfort Part 2.

Inside the hotel was paradise.   And I’m not referring to the dated d├ęcor and architecture, but the beautiful people who filled the lobby.  They took my breath away.  I had asked friends and colleagues about this conference before leaving.  But everyone was quiet about it, now I knew why.  I had to experience it for myself.  Up until that moment, my direct experience with trans people had been very limited.  Not quite four years ago, I was lost.  Fortunately I found my way to a support group meeting in Portland.  It was there, sitting on a stained couch in a small obscure office, I realized I wasn’t alone. 

So here I was, four years later.  Living openly, as best I knew how, as a single trans woman, attending SCC in my cute summer dress, converse sneakers, and standing in the lobby of the largest gatherings of trans people in America.  What I saw was simultaneously heart-warming and heart breaking.  What I didn’t know was my world was about to change.  The lobby was full of trans people, what was I expecting, right?  The magnitude, diversity, and vibrancy of everyone was overwhelming, yet fabulous. 

There was a long line of conference goers waiting to check-in.  I noticed a table for first-timers, so I headed that way.  A tall pleasant woman warmly greeted me.  I was filled in on the special activities for newbie’s and directed to registration on the 3rd floor.  As I moved through the lobby I noticed that most of the people seemed to be part of the convention, yet there remained a portion of hotel guests who just happened to staying at the same time of our gathering, how wonderful for them.  I also notice that the lobby was full of very tall women.  Of course it was.  The majority of conference goers were trans women, drag queens, and female cross dressers.  If you add 4-5 inch heels to the average male height, voila, super models as far as the eye could see.  The registration was quick and within minutes I left with my ID badge and itinerary.  Having scanned previously scanned the morning presentation I knew there was one that sounded intriguing, Feminist Therapy with Trans Youth.  Perfect. 

I was apprehensive about walking in late, but was assured it would be okay if was discrete when entering. No one is discrete at a trans convention.   The room was typical, lots of beige and a strange mix of fabric patterns.   Attendance was slim, but it was the first presentation of the conference.  The presenter was striking, with a funky black and white floral jacket; pepper gray hair, cut short, smart glasses, and a charming smile that made be feel welcome despite my tardiness.  The discussion went by with a few questions from the audience, and a few attendees boasting about their background and expertise on the subject.  While the interruptions and posturing seemed unprofessional, I sat quietly and let the others have their say.  In retrospect, I realized that for many, this would be there only chance to speak freely as a trans person.  Perspective is everything. 

As the day wore on I became more comfortable in my own skin and my less than elegant business casual appearance.   At the evening’s cocktail party, I mingled and tried to start a few conversations, but it was apparent that this affair was full of established cliques as well as many shy folks.  My experience hadn’t prepared me for the diversity of people and their individual situations.  Being “out” and living as a woman, was my world, but was not for everyone.  The stories and people I met were as varied as the.  I met an ER doctor, about the same age as me, who wasn’t “out” at home.  Attending a conference was a rare chance to explore their gender expression and identity without retribution or ridicule.  It’s a common tale, and I could tell for some it was heartbreaking not to be able to express themselves, except from behind closed doors or at the safety of this conference.  Others shared with me that they were out with their partners, and their gender expression was “part-time”.  I tried to live that life for years and it was exhausting.  The regret I carry is a burden that I hope to discard someday. 

The conference lasted several more days.  In that time I met many wonderful people whose stories, personality and charm touched me truthfully.  I felt empowered and exhausted every night.  On day two, I met more fabulous people.  Once again I walked into the morning presentation late.  The presenter was a charming and confident trans woman who displayed an ease discussing and addressing topics raised my many of the college students in attendance.  Attendees dominated the meeting and discussion and I couldn’t get a comment in, but I had more sympathy that morning.

Before I could grab a cup of needed Starbucks, a woman whom I recognized from a previous seminar, approached with a welcome smile. We talked and got to know each other quickly.  She was a photographer working on a new project about trans people.  I looked up her previous book on my laptop.  It looked quite familiar and very impressive.  Her sincerity was obvious and we arranged to do a photo shoot that afternoon, followed by an interview.   How fun, but why me I thought. 


Using the garden behind the hotel, the photo shoot took no more than 30 minutes.  It was awkward being the subject of someone’s attention, especially with a camera. I’m usually the one behind the lens.  We decided to go right into the interview.  After taking over an abandon conference room, we got started.  A microphone was clipped to my top and we got started.  I didn’t know what to expect, I wonder if she did?  The questions were simply and personal.  Who was I was and how did I get here today? After more than 3 hours of telling my story, interrupted by occasional laughter, tears, and a vacuum cleaner, the digital audio recorder and the two of us were exhausted.   The conversation was nothing like anything I have never experienced before.  I had discovered and unearthed memories that had been buried deep under a life of pain, denial, and survival. 


We caught our breath, stretched our legs, and parted ways for the evening.  She was off to meet and interview another person and I needed a drink. On my way back to my room I received a message from a mentor and highly regarded author.  To many in the trans community this person is revered.  So, without name-dropping, she was at the convention as a presenter and even though we were both from Maine, we had never met.  After agreeing to have a drink and chat later that evening, I quickly returned to my room and had a glass of wine.  What was I going to wear? I was so nervous.  Should I dress smartly, sexy, sophisticated, contemporary, youthful, or age appropriate?  At least I knew I would have the right shoes. 


Part 3. coming soon