Our Growing Trans Community, Our Community Growing Up
This weekend was a fabulously busy. It was my 2nd year at the Philly Trans Health Conference (PTHC), first time as a board member. I presented six times, volunteered, and had tons of meeting, both for fancy business and friendly love. My thoughts about the conference circle around a sense of growing community, and our past and future. This was stirred particularly by my seeing friends from early on in my coming out, people who I haven’t seen in years, reawakening memories of first finding community, that desperation to not be alone, and the joy of connecting with someone who was like me.
I ran a trans performance plenary with the amazing performers Bryn Kelly, Katastrophe, Athens Boys Choir, The Notorius OMG, Leah b. of Gender Edge, Ignacio Rivera, and AJ Bryce. As we all spoke, points of similarity kept arising; we all started out alone, isolated from anyone else like us. We never planned to be this visible, we were searching for ourselves, and ended up finding more than we ever thought. And in searching for myself, I selfishly loaded the conference with femme stuff this year. I brought the issue to the board, stressing the importance of femme inclusion, and before I knew it I was titled the Femme Program Coordinator – something PTHC has never had before. Honestly, I questioned myself like “but, wait, I’m not what most people think of when they think femme… should I be in charge” but then I realized that not only was there no one else, and it was me or nothing, that also the fact that I am not the “mainstream” vision of what femme is might be a good reason for me to take it on. Time to break the mold and get the wheels of change moving! There were so many folks like me there, it was like looking in a mirror – a much more fabulous and well dressed mirror. And when the inevitable happened, and non-trans female femmes raised their eyebrows saying “wait, you are the one in charge a femme programming….?” I brushed it off and smiled to myself, because the femme workshop they attending would not have been there if it wasn’t for me. If they didn’t think I was femme enough, then they could get out of my workshops- and there were several. Through the supportive conference leadership I was able to take PTHC from having one femme workshop (that had only been in programming for two of the ten years of the conference) to seven workshops focused on femmes presented by a diverse array of femmes of different identities, and all of them were packed! My femme boys workshop had almost 160 people in it which was intense but wonderful, and gave me ideas for new programming next year. I also did a workshop with my mentor and friend, Moonhawk River Stone about gender identity disorder removal which was a success, and we have new plans for the next year, and how we aren’t willing to wait anymore on what we’ve been nervously dragging our feet on. Our community is getting too big, too strong to sit under this oppression any longer. Ignacio Rivera and I did a fun sexual liberation workshop for the young folks in the youth programming track. It was incredible to hear 16 year olds talking about the gender binary and privilege. It made me wonder where I would be if I had known about that stuff when I was their age, and it blows my mind thinking what they may accomplish by the time they are my age. Speaking of age, I also got a ton of baby time this weekend, getting to play with S. Bear Bergman’s son, while totally blowing off other stuff that was not as important as crawling around the carpet with a 16 month old. I wonder what things will be like in the trans community when that baby grows up…
My other big task of the conference planning was I directed and performed in the new show, “Blender! Trans Performance Showcase.” This was the first time a performance showcase has been a part of the Philly Trans Health Conference and it couldn’t have gone over better. I wanted to do a show because I wanted to promote trans and queer performance, and also to stress the importance of including art in our work as activists. Our community’s art is our community’s culture, and if we don’t support it, who will? This show was great. It was honestly the most hectic, disastrous, stressful show I’ve ever organized but it was also one of the most exciting because we were forging a new space. In the end, all the hard work was worth it. All the performers were fantastically talented doing spoken word, music, dance, and drag. We bonded together, ready to create something for our people, and to show our people what we had created. The fabulous Liberty City Kings Drag and Burlesque troupe were life-savers in helping me run the stage, and the audience was happy and excited giving the night such a positive energy. It was a great way to wrap up the weekend and I’m looking forward to running the event next year!
Video from the performance, which loops in perfectly with this blog topic. I call it “GenderBent Kids” partly after the name of the song the dance is set to, “Kids” by MGMT. Its a little reflection on myself growing up, enjoying both femme and masculine cultural expressions, but continually feeling the need to choose between one or the other under the imposed narrative of social authority promoting the gender binary. Like most of my favorite pieces, it came together from a last minute idea that hit me like a hurricane like “OMG this would be awesome” and there it was. This is the first run of it so I’m looking forward to beefing up the dancing a little bit more and maybe making it a little more complex.
This conference was just a good example of where I want our community to be going. This conference is the biggest trans focused conference in the world, and it just turned 10 years old. Seems fitting we are on a good path of growth, which could not have happened without the amazing folks working on the project. We weren’t without issues this weekend, not without people being hurtful and oppressive, or without pain, but we worked through it. We were together with our elders and our youth, forging a community that was accountable, responsible, active, understanding, and loving. Hell, even Chaz Bono got an earful of community folks asking him about his behavior and holding him accountable – more on that later. Our community is growing, and we’re getting stronger. We gotta keep this up.