B.C. on Gender: The Year 2000 IFGE Convention
When I went to the IFGE Convention in Crystal City, Virginia (at the Washington DC Airport), I decided to write a "trip report", which I posted to a TG mailing list that I belong to. Because I had my laptop with me, I posted each day's report at the end of the day. Here are the original reports.
I registered at around 8:30 this morning, and then looked for ways to waste time until the 10:00 plenary speech. So I hung around a hallway meeting people. I'm an introvert by nature but, for some reason, I can schmooze with other TG people fairly easily. The IFGE Convention brings out all kinds. Within about half an hour, I met Josie (a pre-op TS), Trankilia (a bearded lady), Amanda (a really pretty cross-dresser who has never been out of the house dressed before), and more. Like many such events, the FtMs were underrepresented, but there are a few.
The plenary speech was probably the high-point of today. We had talks from many of the IFGE big wigs (yeah, that's a pun) like Alison Laing and Kristine James (the oranizers) and Toronto's very own Pamela Geddes. I've met Alison on a few occassions, and I never fail to be impressed by her warmth and personability.
There were touching speeches by Kirstin Kingdon (the Executive Director of PFLAG -- Parents, Familiies and Friends of Lesbians and Gays) and Rev. Laurie Auffant (a transgendered minister in the Universalist Unitarian).
But I think the speech that simply blew away the entire room was a speech by Kerry Lobel, the outgoing Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force (NGLTF). Kerry spoke beautifully and articulately about how people can make choices to help people around them. She said that the NGLTF movement was committing to help further the rights of transgendered people as well as Gays, Lesbians and Bisexuals. And she reminded us that even het-identified transgendered people can further the cause of GLB people merely by responding to queer-unfriendly comments by saying "As a heterosexual, I support gay and lesbian rights".
Kerry pointed out that in recent cases where queer-unfriendly laws have been passed by referendum, one of the things that encourage the public to vote one way or the other was whether or not they, personally, knew queer people. Our outness, therefore, directly translates into improved rights and protections.
There was a standing ovation, and thunderous applause. Ms. Lobel is a remarkable speaker, and I don't think I was the only one who was tremendously moved by her words.
There's not much to say about lunch. I sat with a woman who's only involvement with the TG community was that she knew someone in 1965 who was transgendered, and she was attending the convention to understand the issues better. Somehow I started a conversation about Star Trek (the other type of convention that I go to) and all the closet trekkies at the table piped up.
There were some awards handed out -- these are the IFGE's Trinity Awards. The first went to Dawn Wilson, who spoke about her experiences both as transwoman and an African American woman in the primarily white TG community. The second went to Mary Boenke, who has done a lot of work in PFLAG to include support for families of TGs. The final award went to Tony Barreto-Neto, the FtM who works for the Florida Sherrif's Department.
Panel: Knowing Your True Self
This was an interesting, if somewhat philosophical, discussion about how we figure out how to really answer a simple question: Who am I? The concepts were interesting, but I think that it was hard to have that kind of conversation in one hour. The topic had deep and profound implications, and although the panel speaker (Christina C.) was really well-prepared, I found I probably would have been happy if I could have debated the points for hours.
Panel: Hey Family, Guess What?
This was a panel about coming out. Mary Boenke, whom I mentioned earlier, lead this panel about how one goes about telling one's family about being transgendered. Mary is the mother of a child who came out as lesbian over twenty years ago, and who recently came out as a transman. Mary handed out a nice, concise list of suggestions for how to come out to your family, and then there was a group discussion.
This panel was particularly interesting to me, because I only came out to my in-laws about a year ago, and my mum-in-law is still trying to determine what this all means. I think I got some good ideas about things that I can do to help her understand, so that's a Good Thing.
I hadn't made any arrangements for dinner, but I managed to bump in to Mariette Pathy Allen (the photographer). I had been asking her about having a portrait done, and she was kind enough to invite me along for dinner with her and some of her friends. We went out to a really nice Italian restaurant, and had this wonderful conversation about why we do what we do. We spent a good three hours in the restaurant, while the waiters tried to figure us out. It was a scream.
Tomorrow, there's a new batch of panels -- an earlier start on the day, so I'll see more presentations.
Panel: Shamanic Journey of the Transperson
I had the world's most mediocre breakfast in the hotel today, and then headed off to my first panel: Cheryl Ann Costa is a Buddhist nun who talked about the spiritual heritage of transpeople. What she said was that shamans, and medicine people, and native spiritual leaders have often involved the gender different. This was an interesting message, because, I think, because since the beginning of the year, I've been on a spiritual journey.
In fact, ever since the beginning of the year, my life has been full of odd little coincidental moments that have seemed to point me toward spiritually significant things. And perhaps it's not just coincidence that transgendered spirituality played such a large role at this conference.
Cheryl Ann argues that we have a special closeness to spiritual matters. And I'm sure that there are transpeople who don't feel any need for spirituality in their lives... but me, I'm comforted by that idea.
The theme of spirituality kept coming back throughout the day, and I'll talk about it more in a bit.
Okay. Here, I have a special confession. One of the big reasons I wanted to come to this particular convention is because Riki Anne Wilchins was a speaker. When it comes to Riki, I'm a drooling fan-grrl; I think Riki is the most important theorist in our community. And I was fortunate to hear her speak at the next panel.
Actually, let me back up a bit before that. Last night, I had dinner with a number of people, including JJ (not JJ Allen, for the record), a crossdresser from the Washington DC area, who happens to work with GenderPAC -- the gender lobby group for which Riki is the Executive Director. And I mentioned my obsession with Riki to her. Today, JJ introduced me to Riki directly. *eep* Here's me, meeting my idol for the first time, ever. *yikes* I can only hope that I didn't come across as a complete and utter moron.
Surprisingly, Riki's panel wasn't all that meaningful to me. She was talking about lobbying Capitol Hill, and given that I live in a different country, I couldn't really relate to the politics she was describing. I did, however, find myself wondering what kind of lobbying Canada needed. Hurm. I just don't know.
Coming back from the panel, I ran in to Miqqi, and we chatted briefly.
Food, Glorious Food!
Lunch was crowded. From the ninety or so people that we had yesterday, there was now around a hundred and thirty people for lunch. The staff had to find new tables for all the people.
During lunch, Alison Laing introduced a blessing that was being performed by the Kindred Spirits group (Holly Boswell, and company). Kindred Spirits is a transgendered "New Age" spirituality group, and the performance they did involved bells, and chimes, and people reciting hokey speeches. For my part, I found the presentation a bit uncomfortable-making -- it seemed too stagey, too forced.
And yet, amidst this campy backdrop, there was a very tangible spark -- an energy of sorts -- running through the room. I found myself opening up, in a sense. Becoming more and more receptive to that energy. And, without warning, I found myself crying. The tears weren't overpowering; they were little well-behaved streams of water running over an otherwise emotion-free face. But after that lunch, I couldn't deny that there was something inside me. Something that felt almost painfully familiar. Something in me that yearned.
Oh well. I probably sound like a flake.
After this ceremony, there were a number of speakers. Apple Computers received a diversity award for specifically including transgender protections in their corporate policies. Dana Rivers (a transsexual teacher who continues to appear in the media) spoke about feeling the need to remain in the public light because of the gains that she feels can be made for transpeople everywhere. She feels that it is "her time" to fight and be visible.
And finally, there was a wild, political speech by Riki Anne Wilchins. I've previously heard Riki say many of the things that she said today but, for me, it was especially meaningful to hear her live and in person. I feel like we are at a time when our culture is on the cusp of a great change regarding gender. I feel this great anticipation about what our society can become.
Panel: The Body Thing
This was a panel that was nothing like what I expected. I expected it to relate to body issues. In fact, the panel moderator (Zantui Rose) asked some very interesting questions about... well, about the Beauty Myth, for lack of a better sound-byte. Do transgendered women help perpetuate mass-market ideas of beauty? It was an interesting discussion, but unfortunately, there wasn't tons of time to address the topic.
Panel: A Transgender Spirit Circle
My last panel of the day was a spirit circle. Holly Boswell, and a number of others in the Kindred Spirits group held an open circle. I've done circles in earth religions in the past, and when you get a group that's working well with each other, it really clicks -- there's an energy, for lack of a better phrase, that's very tangible. I felt that, in this spirit circle; it was very moving.
After the circle, I got my picture taken by Mariette; I'm looking forward to seeing the final results.
There was a wine and cheese party with music by Jessica Xavier and her transgendered band. While schmoozing at the party, I chatted with Larissa, a cute little babytrans (they're so young, these days!), and Sarah -- another crossdresser who has never been out of the house before.
And then, I got invited to dinner with Holly, Zantui, Nancy Nangeroni, Gordene Mackenzie, Rev. Laurie Auffant, Emily, Christina C. and a new-timer named Kendra. For Kendra, it a blossoming experience; she'd never been out in public dressed before, and you could see the amazement on her face that she wasn't being hassled by people. For my part, I spent the evening talking to Christina about the previous days panel ("Finding your true self").
I tend to do a lot of pondering when I'm trying to figure stuff out. For me coming to terms with my transgenderism was an intellectual exercise; I read tons of books about the nature of identity, the biological theories of gender and about philospohical notions of culture. But Christina reminded me that sometimes thinking about things really hard isn't enough; that sometimes we have direct access to certain truths about who we are and what is right for us.
So, here's how I think about today. My interest in Riki Anne Wilchins and transgender politics is a very cerebral interest; my interest in transgender spirituality is at an entirely different level.
And isn't it fascinating that I was exposed to both on the very same day?
Panel: Intro to FTM Issues
This was one of two FTM sessions that I spent time on; there was a separate one-day FTM track at the convention that was open to all conference attendees. I continue to be aware of my own ignorance about FTM issues and wanted to try to fill in some of the gaps. The Intro panel was sparsely populated. James Green and Tony Barreto-Neto were leading the panel, and there were two FTMs on the panel -- one of whom spoke no English (one guy was here from Paris, where he felt there was little TG support) -- and one psychologist who was there gathering data for the benefit of his FTM clients.
What was awkward, for me, was to listen to the theoretical differences between what James and Tony espoused, and the postmodernist perspectives on gender with which I am more familiar. Tony, especially, refereed to a lot of biological theories about why FTMs "really are" male, whereas I read a lot about just how poor our understanding is about the biology of gender. On the other hand, James and Tony also spoke (almost angrily) about the fact that they feel patronized and talked down to by the MTF leaders in the TG community.
So there I was, torn really, between wanting to debate some of this stuff with them, and feeling like maybe I should just shut up and listen for a while. For the most part, I kept my mouth shut. But this put me into an interesting frame of mind for my next panel.
Panel: Leading the Community in the New Millennium
This panel brought together leaders from very different parts of the community: James Green (founder and former head of FTM International), Merisa Richmond (whom I haven't really heard of), Nancy Nangeroni (one of the hosts of the GenderTalk radio program) and Jane Ellen Fairfax (Chair of the Board of Tri-Ess).
I think that James set the tone of the meeting when he asked: "do we have a community?" Is there really such a thing as a TG community, or are we all too diverse to really form a cohesive group?
The key insight (in my mind) that was discussed was that perhaps we didn't need to all agree on "founding principles" or theories what causes transgenderism. If we could support other parts of the community despite deep theoretical disagreements, we can get a lot accomplished.
This makes the TG movement considerably different than other social movements. The black Civil Rights movement started as a unified group, and fractured. The women's movement started as a unified group, and then broke up into a variety of different camps. Even the gay and lesbian liberation movement has had lots of issues with parts of the movement wanting to disown other parts of the movement. Right now, people are imagining a TG movement that operates far more chaotically.
I work in the technology industry, and one of the things that baffles many people in the industry is the success of the Internet. Here's a network that has no "leadership", no central coordination, no all encompassing plan... and it is radically transforming our society. Maybe the TG movement can be the same way.
After a simple lunch, Frances and Jane Ellen Fairfax received the Virginia Prince award for their work with Tri-Ess -- this is the first time that a TG and spouse has received the award together.
Panel: Surgical Option for FTMs
After lunch, the guys talked about surgical options. The majority of the time was spent talking about phalloplasty; Tony reported a lot of interesting things about the amount of sensation that he had in his penis. He also reported that when sexually stimulated, his penis would actually fill with blood, and grow in size, although it didn't actually get hard.
Personally, I found this stuff quite interesting, as I hadn't thought that the results of phalloplasty were as successful as Tony described. The cost of this surgery is getting closer to being affordable, too: US $30,000 for some doctors. Tony also showed us the scar on his arm where the skin was removed. It was a very clean scar -- not something one would notice unless one were looking right at it.
Panel: The Evolution of the TG Community
I ended the day with a slide show by Mariette Pathy Allen -- she showed a series of photos taken over her long involvement with the TG community. Mariette is a really wonderful photographer, and her book Transformations is the first book about TGs that I ever bought.
The evening ended with a Gala dinner. The gowns were gorgeous, and at the height of fashion, too. I was amazed by some of the outfits that I was seeing. For my part, when it comes to fancy dress events, I tend what I refer to as my gender-bending outfit. I wear a tailcoat and bow-tie with a velour leggings and a feminine hat. I like the effect of mixing gender indicators.
I had some good conversations with Anne and Dawn over dinner, and then we were treated to the Washington DC Gay Men's Chorus, who were absolutely marvelous.
And now, it's Sunday morning, and people are already packing away their wigs, and checking out for long drives home. It's been a good convention, and I hope to go to the next one in Chicago.
Copyright © 2000 by B.C. Holmes. Last
updated April 12th, 2000.
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