The conference was totally awesome. My partner and I attended part of the day Friday, and all of Saturday. In the past, I have gotten really overwhelmed really quickly, and I have felt like I don’t belong (not because of anything specific – I think it’s one of the most inclusive and conscientious events for trans* people from all types of backgrounds – but simply because I couldn’t really handle it, socially.) This year, I did not feel that at all! I even met 6 people! I was networking (sort of)!!!
I’m going to list and summarize the workshops I made it to, and then just write a little more about the experience overall:
Manning Up: No Apology Necessary – This was a guided discussion led by 3 contributors to a new anthology put out by Transgress Press. They first read from their pieces in the book, and then opened it up for questions and others to talk about their own experiences. I liked that this was not at all about what masculinity is, and how to find our masculine voices, but rather about personal growth, however that ends up looking like, in terms of roles and gender presentations. Another blogger wrote some interesting thoughts on this workshop, here.
Community-Building as Self-Care: Building a Movement(s) for Non-Binary Trans* Communities – This workshop ended up being huge! The facilitator said they were only expecting and planning for 20-30 participants, and there were probably 150+ people in attendance. As a result, the workshop was pretty unfocused, really only skimming the surface, but that might be where these topics are at, currently… Things, in some ways, are just getting started in non-binary communities. I think that (or at least I hope) the conference/facilitators will be better equipped for these workshops in the future. It’s true – in past years, I’ve gone to a few about genderqueer and non-binary identities (and there are really only a few offered) and the turnout was not huge. Things are really changing in this area in particular!
Real & Unreal Worlds: A Fiction and Poetry Event with Rachel Gold and Stephanie (Stephen) Burt – Rachel Gold is a young adult novelist, the author of Being Emily, amongst others, and Stephanie Burt is a poet and professor at Harvard University. They both did some readings of published and soon-to-be published works and then opened it up for questions and answers. Stephanie got a little bit swept up in her own work, which resulted in not quite enough time for audience participation in the discussion. It was a great workshop to attend for the morning though, when I wasn’t quite with it yet, to ease in to the day.
2014 Youth Panel: Seen and Heard – This was incredible and eye-opening! There were 4 panel members from very different backgrounds, aged 13-22. They each took turns answering questions provided by the two (also youth-aged) moderators. Then the audience had a chance to step up to a microphone and ask questions as well. The room was packed, and as audience members stepped up to introduce themselves and ask something, it was clear they were here for all sorts of reasons: They were parents of trans* youths themselves, they were pediatricians, social workers, activists, documentary film-makers, etc. They were there because they wanted to hear personal stories from young people, and help make changes in their professions and their communities on behalf of youth. Some of the stories were really heartbreaking; nonetheless, the energy in this workshop was really amazing.
No Longer Transsexuals, Not Quite Dysphoric: Who Are We Without a Diagnosis? – I find this topic to be highly interesting and, again, I left with a sense that we’d only scratched the surface. The guided discussion (when we got around to it) was very stimulating, but quite a bit of time was used up at the beginning of the session going around the room, introducing ourselves, and saying what brought us to this workshop. (I’m talking about maybe half of the session was used up doing this. I understand the facilitators wanted everyone to be involved, and they genuinely wanted to know why we were there, but this approach took too long.) We then discussed diagnoses for insurance purposes, stigmas attached to diagnoses, the DSM and the ICD (the International Classification of Diseases – this was new to me!), and how things are done in different parts of the world. A woman from India stood up toward the end, and talked in an impassioned way about how none of this applies to her and her country. And she went into details about some gruesome conditions in India, where it would be accurate to still refer to modifications as undergoing a “sex change.” I’m glad she had the courage to tell us about it, from her own perspective.
A Gender Not Listed Here – I’m going to do a separate post about this workshop, soon, because I loved it so much. So, this is just a teaser about that. Haha.
We also attended the Blender! Showcase after the conference, on Saturday night. There were some really amazing and intense performances, in the vein of spoken word, dance, and drag.
My networking accomplishments: I actually talked to some people! This is kinda huge for me; I don’t generally do this. I met Rhys Harper, a photographer raising funds to do a nationwide tour, a book, and art openings. I met and talked to two trans*guys from Transgress Press. I met Ezekiel of firsttimesecondtime.com! And I met two other internet friends, something I’ve never before experienced. We even went out to dinner with an internet friend, along with eir partner and another friend, and our friend from Philly. It was cool! We ate dosas.
In four days, my partner and I will be on vacation! We’re going to stay with friends in South Philly, hang out, and attend the PTHC, for the 3rd year in a row. It’ll actually be my 4th time attending – my first time was in 2006. It took place in early March, instead of June, back then. It was much smaller scale. Maybe a dozen or two dozen workshops, and a couple hundred people. Now there are over 250 workshops and over 3000 attendees, over the course of 3 days!
My memories of that year are super vague and fuzzy. I’m sure I was paralyzed by social anxiety for the majority of my time there. I was traveling with a (sort of more than) friend, and it was a strange time. I remember taking the trolley and getting lost. I remember eating carrots, crouched down low like a bunny, outside of the conference center. I remember our hosts – friends of mine – offering us some amazing dumpstered food, and feeling jealous it was so easy for them to get so much free food (not that I had put in too much effort into acquiring dumpster scores at the time, where I live. Some effort, but not much, haha.)
I’m most looking forward to attending some workshops on the following topics: health care (one in particular is called How to Develop a Transgender Healthcare Alliance in Your Community), trans* youth voices, and anything non-binary-related, as long as it’s a little more advanced than defining terms and finding our identities. In the past, I’ve mainly honed in on workshops about mental health, non-binary identities, and sex. It feels significant that the information I’m seeking, the topics I’m finding interesting, has started to shift.
In the past, it’s been a delicate balance between wanting to get the most out of it, and pushing myself far far beyond what I can actually do (in terms of crowds and being around people). I end up being a walking zombie for a lot of it. I’ve tried a bunch of things to help me last longer. I bring snacks and water, and don’t worry about eating right in the middle of a workshop, if I have to. I have brought my journal and attempted to find a quiet corner to just write down some thoughts, hoping to come back into the present moment. I have even wandered around the rest of the conference center, walking up to other floors, where it is dead quiet and (probably) where no one is supposed to be.
Last year I found what really really works for me. I left the conference center all together, for about a half hour, and took a walk around a couple of blocks. I’m not familiar with the area at all, and was delighted to find myself in Chinatown! I stopped into a food store and bought a soda and then just kept walking and walking. It felt incredibly rejuvenating. When I got back, I was ready to absorb more golden information and people-watch at the best people-watching event I know of! Haha.
Will anyone be at the conference? I’d love to say “Hey,” in person! Do you have any other conferences or trans*-related events, coming up, that you’re excited about?