Thursday, November 22, 2007

What I'm Thankful For

I finally have a little time to breathe with the Thanksgiving holiday. I hope everyone has a safe and happy Thanksgiving while keeping the waistline at a reasonable number! All is well on my end... just a lot of work lately. Many like to write columns and blog posts about what they're thankful for. Here is my list:

1) Friends who know the real me especially all the wonderful ladies at Kappa Beta. Special thanks goes to Pamela and Trish for their continual support.
2) My family who don't yet know all of the real me but love me nonetheless.
3) All those beautiful prom, bridesmaid, wedding, Civil War dresses... makes this girl feel soooo feminine.
4) The Internet where I started to discover the real me.
5) My four cats... purrrrrrr.
6) The right time and place that allows me to have the opportunity to explore my true self... hmmmmm, that sounds like a good blog post.
7) Ms. Carmen, my hypnosis therapist.
8) Friends who don't know all of the real me but like me for who I am.
9) Long flowing skirts against smooth nyloned legs... like a touch of heaven.
10) My work which is quite fulfilling and allows me to buy all those wonderful feminine things.
11) Lipstick... every shade under the sun to express every mood.
12) Long hair against my bare shoulders reminds me of how good it feels to be a girl.
13) All the official activists working on our behalf everyday in the legislative halls.
14) All the unofficial activists who slowly are making a difference one heart at a time by being out and about and being themselves.
15) Southern Comfort
16) My razors which rid myself of my nasty body hair.
17) Eye shadow, blush, foundation... it's not just makeup. It's magic!
18) The Moody Blues
19) The Civilization computer game series where women can really rule the world!
20) People from the mainstream who treat you with dignity no matter what is between your legs.
21) Crying
22) The ability to be feminine
23) The future... the best is yet to come!

Sunday, November 11, 2007

A Long Time Ago...

I'll leave the finish to the above to the George Lucas moviemaking machine to avoid potential copyright pitfalls. However, it is quite appropriate to look back from time to time. In my sessions with Ms. Carmen, she makes sure I remember key past events and even helps put me back in that time. Looking back accomplishes several things. It shows me how far I've come as Stephanie and how much I've changed. She also makes sure I recognize key moments of change such as the 2007 SCC where I worked as a video producer en femme for the first time.

At the end of our last chat, Ms. Carmen brought up a memory I shared early in my blog history about a time before I had even chosen a femme name. It was when I was discovered by a college roommate when I was part of a fundamentalist church. That night, several men from the church "intervened" with me about my "sin." I threw away the two dresses I had at the time. It was a time of despair for me. I thought I was evil and perverted. I even thought I was the only one with thoughts of wearing women's clothes. I had no idea of a community. They had caught me, and I had no choice but to acquiesce. That day and the days following were some of the darkest times in my life. Their solution? Pray to God, and beg Him to take this away from me.

The above occurred almost 15 years ago (December 1992). Just over five years later, I would go out for the first time en femme. Now I am fully on the path I was destined for. It took a while to get on that track, but I can truly say that it has been worth it. I know more challenges lie ahead. I will probably face some truly difficult times. However, I know I can never go back if I am to be true to myself.

So why do I use the Star Wars opening line? I think of my time with the church in college as happening in a different universe almost. It may sound ephereal, but very little of that life is familiar to me now. I can look at it now like an image on a monitor and barely recognize it. It's like watching a science fiction film. I can barely believe that was me throwing away those dresses. However, I do understand that day is a big part of who I am now.

So what changed? I started thinking for myself. That may sound like the simplest thing, but it took me so long to figure that out. I accepted everyone's words as gospel and never understood that so many do not have my best interests in mind. I am terrible in political situations, but I am much better at not simply following other's wishes. I choose my own goals. I decide the gameplan and then execute it. I reap the consequences, good, bad, and ugly. I pick myself up, learn from my mistakes and successes, and keep on going. And you know something? I have made more genuine friendships by being true to myself... and yes, you still have to treat others with respect. In doing so, you must respect yourself too. You attract the right people who respect your honestly and dignity.

By the way, none of this involved hypnosis with Ms. Carmen. We were just talking. I wanted to go over my Ghostwalk day. She wanted to encourage me to be happy with how far I've come since that dark December day and to inspire me to continue on the path I'm meant to be on. She is one of many friends who help me be true to myself. I only hope I do the same for them even if they don't always know it.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

A New Adventure Realized

I do apologize for the delay in writing about the ghostwalk at Latta Plantation. While I have been busy with a new job, I have also had difficulties coming to terms with finding a greater meaning in my volunteer job. Finally last night (11/3) at our regular Charlotte Gender Alliance meeting, I had the opportunity to talk about my experience with some of my trans sisters. It is always nice to have good friends as a sounding board of sorts to put things in perspective. They all helped me realize that this was indeed a remarkable thing. I may have forgotten that at some point, but that is part of the learning experience.

I arrived at Latta Plantation about 5pm that Saturday, two hours before the start of the event. I was en femme wearing blue jeans, a light blue sweater, and my favorite black pumps. In speaking with Karen the prior week, I knew I would have my own changing area. That had been my biggest concern.

Walking into the visitor’s center, I was greeted by Nicole, the same young lady that had been so nice to me on my first visit. I talked about my dress of course, and Nicole said she was looking forward to seeing me in it. She suggested I wait for the pizza before changing which was a great idea! I went into the room where the makeup artists were already putting on the white and grey face paint on some of the volunteers. I chatted a bit with everyone until the pizza arrived.

Then it was time to go get the dress from the car and get changed. I can’t explain the feeling carrying the dress inside and upstairs to the changing room. It was like a dream come true. So I starting changing and was finishing buttoning the bodice when I heard a knock at the door. I was looking decent by that point and said to come in. Kristin, the executive director, walked in and immediately complimented me on my dress. She just needed to pick something up and left. I finished buttoning the dress and looked at myself in one of the mirrors. I felt nervousness, excitement, anxiousness… all kinds of emotions including going back to my childhood memories of the lady wearing the dress in the encyclopedia picture. Later I put on the pin brooch which completes the picture you see of me that day.

I took one more walk around the path we would be on that night. I talked with several of the volunteers setting up their scenes. In total, we had 90 dedicated volunteers. I was very proud to be part of that group. Everyone was nice, and I told them I would see them later with some scared visitors.

I talked with Karen, who was in charge of the event planning, when I returned to the building. Karen was the one person the entire time who seemed completely comfortable with me. She called me Stephanie without blinking like it had been my name my entire life. Even though all the staff and volunteers were nice to me, I could see some hesitation when they spoke with me. I did not see that at all with Karen, and that is a credit to her. In all fairness to everyone else, I understand that I am probably one of the more unique volunteers they have seen, and it will take time to develop a greater comfort level.

People started arriving, and the staff began lining everyone up in groups for the first goaround. Being an eager beaver, I volunteered to lead the first group. I opened my mouth, introduced myself, and I could tell that I was being read. I felt my heart drop, and my nervousness reached a level like the first time I tried on women’s clothing. Being somewhat practiced in public speaking, I fell back on what I knew to reach an audience. Where are you from? Is this your first trip here? Oh let me tell you about some of the other events here. That is what composed me more than anything.

Leading that first group, I knew I was a bit of a mess. I held my lantern in one hand and my notes in another. I know my voice was shaking and hand quivering the whole first half of the walk. I even forgot one of the stops (the kitchen where the chefs were serving brains). At some point though, I calmed down enough to start enjoying myself. As I said goodbye to the first group, I could see everyone was smiling in a way that meant they had enjoyed themselves.

For the second group, I decided to ditch my notes to free up a hand. I was given a group to lead again and started to go. “Hi, my name is Stephanie!!” I was quickly held back by a volunteer telling me it wasn’t our turn yet. Oooops. One teenage boy in another group yelled mockingly, “Stephanie.” Not only did I ignore him, but so did everyone else. One minor crisis adverted. The group he was in went on ahead followed by my group. He tried to mock me again a couple of times. Again, he was ignored.

By my third group, I had people asking to take pictures with me. Also some mostly older people were asking politely why I was dressed the way I was. This was one question I had decided ahead of time I would not be offended by. Each time, I answered that I wanted to volunteer in this way, and I had an interest in history and the women’s fashions of the era. If I had time, I would tell the story of the dress too. Everyone seemed to enjoy my stories. I was not confrontational at all. In fact, I felt I was fulfilling my role as a guide and docent by sharing a bit about me and connecting it back to the history of Latta Plantation

A bit about the ghostwalk itself: We started along a wide grassy path which gave me the chance to introduce myself and and prepare the guests for the frights ahead. We then entered a very narrow path through the woods where a Civil War skirmish had flared up yet again. This included soldiers, a burial scene, and a barn scene with a very upset widow. Next was the one room kichen with witches serving brains and asking for donations. We then walked through the lower level of the main house where we witnessed a séance and Mr. Latta’s funeral. That was followed by a walk through the garden with a fake and a living scarecrow. We walked briefly through the slave cabin with some strange noises upstairs. The walk concluded with a trip to the miner’s cabin where we were chased off by a couple of mad miners. Of course, you have to have the fake ending approaching the parking lot. A gun would be shot off, and one more ghost would scare the guests at the end of the line.

One funny note involved going out of the slave cabin. Since the steps were very steep, I used that as a stopping point to warn people to watch their step. I even offered a helpng hand when needed. One about seven year old boy came down and asked, “Why are you dressed like a girl?” I answered sweetly, “Because I want to.” He actually seemed ok with my answer… well as ok as a seven year old could muster.

About 800 people came through the ghostwalk that Saturday night. After two and a half hours and about seven group, my feet gave up the ghost. I sat down with some of the other guides as we recounted our stories. We noted the slight differences on each of our trips which is a tribute to the hard work and ingenuity of the actors. At 10pm, Kristen came out and told everyone to close up shop. I made sure the changing room was clear and went back to my 21st century garb.

Afterwards, I made the rounds thanking everyone especially Nicole and Kristen. I really wanted to thank Karen as well, and I found her closing up the house. I told her how much it meant for me to do this as Stephanie. Karen said she had heard me some throughout the night and thought I did get a good job.

So after all this, what do I take from my trip back to the 19th century? First, I need to be more serious working on my femme voice. I want to be able to go back and forth as I do rely on my male voice for much of my work. Second, I want to do this again, and again, and again. Even with everything that didn’t go quite right, an awful lot went very well. I prefer to look at the positives as a stepping stone to something better while improving where possible on my weaknesses.

The first time doing something is rarely going to be close to perfect. Driving home, I was so focused on the whole experience to the point of becoming overly critical of myself. I felt like I had not done a particular good job despite Karen’s kind words. I was mostly upset at being read consistently. I expected that coming in, but it was still a jolt to my feminine ego. As the week went on, I did begin to realize that I had done well considering everything. I was being the real me in a fully mainstream setting, and I contributed to a very well produced volunteer effort. That is certainly something to hang your heels on.

Last night at my group meeting, everyone was so proud that I had done this. It really was something different and exciting. Jennifer (who is a post-op TS) even told me riding to the club afterwards, “That took some balls.” By doing this in my own way, I can help the community in my own way. And yes… I had fun! I fulfilled a childhood dream. Even better, the future possibilities are as wide as that sunset sky over Tara in Gone With the Wind. Yes, I will return to make more antebellum trips back to Latta Plantation.