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.


Anonymous said...

What a wonderful story, glad you could experience "real life".

Jessica Britton said...

Congratulations Stephanie! Hopefully more TG folks will be inspired to open that closet door and get involved in the greater community! Glad you had fun, and thanks for sharing it!

Goddess Dallas said...

What a wonderful evening you had! You did a great job and I know you will enjoy next year even more! Wonder what you'll wear then?