Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Question

The most interesting conversations happen with your partner and sometimes other dancers during a contra dance. Most revolve around the quality of the band or of the dancing itself. During one of the swings of a dance, I was asked something that cannot be answered in the space of two twirls. The question was, “How long have you been transgendered?” This was someone whom I’ve thanked for being welcoming from day one. So I did not have a problem with her asking. My answer was, “All my life.” I realized though that may not have been what she was asking. As we met for each “balance and swing,” I tried to fill in the gaps best I could. I thought of each of the various iterations of the questions. Perhaps this was a chance to add a bit more to my back story as a transgendered woman.

How long have you been transgendered? The literal answer to this question is the one I gave: all my life. I was born this way so I have always been transgendered. My identity (i.e. what is in my brain) has always been hardwired to female. I don’t know how or why. I just know it is. Over the years, even with the effects of testosterone and male social conditioning, I still identify as female. That tells you the brain’s wiring of gender identity is pretty strong.

How long have you known you were transgendered? I have known I was different since a very young age… probably since age five. I know I had dreams where I was a girl at that age. I have also shared the story of watching my grandparents ballroom dance at age nine and being entranced by the women in their beautiful dresses. However once I stepped out for the first time en femme in broad daylight… only then did I know for sure. I knew this was right. This is who I was. Only in recent years have I begun to understand the full extent of my female identity in that it goes beyond the clothes.

When did you start acting on your transgender identity? This may have been the real point of my friend’s question. When did my life and my outward presentation begin reflecting my inner being? I put this in three stages. First was my exploration period that began in college and up to time of being discovered by my church friends and then chatting on the internet. Second was actually going out en femme in public with Kappa Beta beginning in February 1998. For several years following that first public outing, I thought it was just the clothes. That began to change around 2005 as I realized my feminine being was much deeper. The third and most recent stage is my involvement the last couple of years with mainstream and LGBT efforts. These activities (Civil War reenactments, contra dancing, community event planning, etc.) have solidified in my mind my feminine identity.

On another note, this week has been an especially hard one with the loss of two of our own in the transgendered community. Heather Ramsey was the technical coordinator at Southern Comfort Conference for the last several years. She died in a car crash a week ago Saturday (Nov 21, 2009). I volunteered with the tech crew for a couple years and was able to see her work first hand. She was as talented and committed an individual as I’ve ever seen. She also taught me something about being myself. There is a huge hole in our community with her passing that will not be easily filled. I am only glad that I left her with a hug at the last SCC. You can see her memorial page at the SCC site. RIP Heather. You will be missed.

I am also saddened by the report of the apparent suicide of L.A. Times sportswriter Mike Penner/Christine Daniels. We never met, but I was moved by her transition story in May 2007. It was announced in October 2008 however that she had de-transitioned and returned to being Mike Penner. I wrote at the time that I believed that she did not stop being transgendered. Her circumstances, whether it was job, family, or something else, forced her to return to her male role. Over a year after that de-transition, she made the ultimate decision. Depression to the point of suicide is common in our community. That’s why support is so vital. Only a week after the Transgender Day of Remembrance, we have a name to read in 2010. Mike/Christine was an immensely talented writer. I pray for the families of both Heather and Mike/Christine that they may be comforted.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

SCC and Feet Retreat


I promised a recap of story links from past posts at Transgender Adventures in History:

My Dream Dress

A Place to be a Southern Belle

A Place to be a Southern Belle Pt. 2

A New Adventure Realized

A Step Forward into the Past

Ripples


This past weekend was tremendous attending both Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta and Feet Retreat in Danbury, NC. As I mentioned earlier, my SCC trip was shortened due to scheduling and finances. I once again had a wonderful time with the http://vanityclub.com/ ladies Thursday night at the lovely Maggiano’s in Perimeter Mall. I enjoy every chance to dress up and breaking bread with friends I haven’t seen in so long. I finally went with one of my prom dresses with a black velvet short sleeve bodice and taffeta wine red skirt. Everyone looked lovely which you would expect from our group. I do have some pictures forthcoming.


Friday morning, I had the pleasure of presenting Transgender Adventures in History for the second year. It was nice to see some faces from the previous year and some new ones too. One topic that we discussed was how restrictive the women’s clothing was in the 19th century and how it mirrored the overall lives of women. While I can say I very much enjoy wearing the dress, corset, and hoop skirt, I’m not sure how I would view the clothes if they were my only choice. Even as a transgender woman, I have many more options today. I also enjoyed sharing the stories of women soldiers in the Civil War as detailed in They Fought Like Demons. Please feel free to email me at nc_southernbelle “at” windstream.net with any suggestions for future presentations. I’d love to have more attendance, but I also want the seminar to continue to be useful and informative.

I caught up with many friends by lunch on Friday. SCC has become quite the family reunion. There were plenty of hugs, laughter, and catching up. There are even a couple of people who knew me only as a name on a chat board before I ever went out. Now that’s going back a ways. Even with the economy, the registration numbers were encouraging. It’s a credit to the SCC board and volunteers that each conference builds on itself with compelling and useful programming. It’s what moved me to get involved a few years back. I was saddened to leave in the middle of Friday lunch.

Who knew that Saturday held in store an equally compelling experience? Many recent posts have detailed my contra dance visits. You probably get the idea that I like it quite a bit. In short, it has been a huge blessing for me this year. I feel I have another group I can safely call family. It’s been that good.

Saturday night was part of a weekend dance event called Feet Retreat. I was only able to attend the Saturday night dance. I made the hour and a half drive in a downpour which wasn’t a big deal until the final five miles. Road construction had a road with no pavement markings, and there were no street lights. Imagine the beginning of any horror movie with a young girl lost in the rainstorm happening upon a haunted house. I pulled in the gravel driveway of Camp Sertoma and saw signs of life. In the distance, I viewed a large wooden cabin with lights and a beautiful noise pouring out. The noise was laughter, applause, foot stomping, and music. I parked my car and ran through the rain towards it. Inside I put on a wristband and waited for the next dance to begin. About 250 dancers filled that large cabin, and the music came from Notorious. Talk about a perfect evening.

Much like SCC, I greeted friends at every turn. The only difference was I didn’t know any of these people six months ago. If you had told me at 2008 SCC I’d be a dancing fool, well you know the rest. I danced every contra except the first that night. The running joke about Feet Retreat was that no one’s feet got any retreat! So many asked if this was my first dance weekend like they knew that it was a special experience for me. A few even encouraged me to attend a full weekend even knowing my logistical hazards. It shows that I am accepted and welcomed for who I am. When the volunteers were acknowledged for Feet Retreat, I gave a knowing nod to my dance partner. Any event of this magnitude doesn’t just happen. Like SCC, it requires a huge commitment and much planning.

Two events, two wonderful communities, and one very grateful dancing southern belle. I am thankful to be involved and welcomed by both. They add so much that is good to this world, and they don’t keep those good things to themselves. The world could learn a thing or two from these communities. I’m happy I already have.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Transgender Adventures in History at 2009 SCC

Hoop skirt, check. Corset, check. Big cotton dress, check. Lots of makeup and digital camera, check! Hmmm, it must be time for Southern Comfort Conference (SCC) in Atlanta with a bit of a historical twist. For those who have not heard of SCC, it is the largest transgender gathering in the world. For several days every fall, the community comes together in a celebration of its gender gifts. The three main days of SCC (Sept. 24-26) consists of seminars, outings, luncheons, and the marketplace in the lovely Crowne Plaza Ravinia in northern Atlanta. It concludes Saturday night with a formal dinner. This year’s theme is “Heroes in Our Lives,” and many efforts are being made during SCC to recognize those who have gone before us and many who are thankfully still contributing.

SCC will be a bit different for me this time as I am only staying one night and two days (Thursday/Friday). I will once again gather with my Vanity Club sisters Thursday evening at a local Italian restaurant for our annual Glam Dinner. We love dressing up to the nines and enjoying each other’s company. For many of us, this is the only time we “see” each other. I am still deciding on a dress… decisions, decisions!

Friday morning at 10:35am is my Transgender Adventures in History presentation. Like last year, it will be broken up into four parts. First, I will share some stories from gender variant people of the past. As part of the SCC theme, I will give special recognition to the women who served during the American Civil War. Second is a history of 19th century women’s fashions. I have many new photos to show this time. Third, I will tell some of my own stories breaking into mainstream reenacting. Those who read this blog regularly will have a head start on those tales! Finally, I will speak about the world of reenacting with special attention to Civil War reenacting. I will, of course, be dressed appropriately in Civil War era dress. This time, the costume will be much more historically accurate, although still not perfect. Like any reenactor, my impression must grow and improve, and the costume is a big part of that.

One of the wonderful things about SCC is the many who choose to go out en femme for the first time during the conference. The organizers and longtime attendees are always amazed and humbled that so many discover their feminine identity at SCC. I am inspired by their courage and resolve. I am also lifted up by all the stories from my transgender brothers and sisters around the world. It was 2006 SCC that moved me to begin taking more steps in being out in the real world. The Civil War reenacting and contra dancing are some of the fruits of that inspiration. I will be sad to leave after the Friday lunch, but I will be returning with many new stories. The great thing is I will be diving right back into the real world with a great contra dance event Saturday night (Feet Retreat) and some other planning meetings. I want to keep my feet firmly planted in both the transgender and mainstream communities. This week is another step in that direction.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Fall Dancing

While the fall season technically does not begin for another two weeks, the cooler air has me thinking of October and November instead of the last days of summer. I speak often of the playfulness of the hot temperatures and late sunsets giving way to the seriousness of the changing leaves and shorter days. I feel it once again as my focus shifts to the important work at hand. Specifically for me, that means a continuous search for free lance video production jobs (which has been going better as of late). It also involves planning for many events such as a Southern Comfort Conference presentation and the Transgender Day of Remembrance on November 20th. There are many other exciting endeavors, some of which I hope to share with you.

Labor day weekend was very nice with a Charlotte Gender Alliance meeting on Saturday and then three straight nights of contra dancing. Talking with my friend Pamela Jones after the meeting Saturday, I was very excited about going out. I think some of my transgender friends believe I'm a bit off my rocker for going out into the mainstream as an open T-gal. As I mentioned in my last post, I am in a somewhat vulnerable position. There is no hiding who I am especially after a few dances with sweat pouring down my face. I do open myself to rude comments, strange looks, and even outright rejection. Maybe I am getting a thicker skin, but it doesn't bother me as much.

What also helps is that most of the contra dance community is quite accepting. I made a point of thanking a couple of people the last week for going above and beyond in welcoming me. I wanted them to know how much it meant to me. As I have become a regular at many of the dances, the feeling of community has become apparent. The dance Sunday was a 12 hour contrathon (of which I only did six hours!) at Glendale Springs in the beautiful North Carolina mountains. The cool and wet weather was a relief from the Charlotte region. Many of us went out to the local seafood restaurant at the dinner break. I don't know if anyone realized the significance of me as a transgender woman being with an otherwise mainstream crowd in a public restaurant. The waitress called me “ma'am” when asking for my order. No kids screamed. There were no hysterics about a man in a dress. Conversation flowed as our tired bodies allowed. All was as it should have been.

Racking my brain remembering my experiences over the last 11 years of going out en femme, I believe the above is a first for me. I have of course gone out to restaurants with transgender or mixed company and also on my own. I don't think I have ever been out in public with a group as the only transgender person. And you know what? It wasn't that big of a deal. I say that completely in a positive way as no one seemed bothered by me eating with them. I also went out Tuesday night following the Winston-Salem dance with similar results. It was nice to relax and not worry so much about being who you are. That barrier has been torn down, and we could talk about normal things like jobs, hometowns, and even dancing.

One friend relayed a story about a post-dance gathering at a bar following one of my earlier dances. My transgender identity was a huge stumbling block even with a fairly accepting group. They didn't know how to approach me. What do you say to her? I was something completely new, but we have all figured out that friendships develop the same regardless of gender identity. We're all human. We all have baggage of some kind, but we all also need others to love us and accept us as we are. She told me the story to encourage me about how much I've grown. The same person even said I was breaking new ground. I don't see myself as an activist, but I do love being out as the real me. By being vulnerable, the positives far outweigh the negatives. I have friendships that I never would have had otherwise. I am experiencing life in ways I never would have dreamed about. I am truly blessed.

One note on my SCC presentation in Atlanta, Transgender Adventures in History. It was rescheduled for Friday, September 25th from the 9am slot to 10:35am. I hope to have a short preview soon, but women in the Civil War will be a prominent theme. Hopefully the later time will let more of the late risers attend. I hope to see many folks there. It's also an honor and a pleasure to speak to people I consider family even if we have never met. So more to come... until then, I have to plan my next dance!

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

A New Dance

In my efforts to move my femme side into the mainstream, I had been looking for something, anything I could do regularly with a social group. Anything from a book club to yoga would have been sufficient. Civil War reenacting has been somewhat of a small step that will eventually become a giant leap. However certain barriers that I have detailed in past blog posts prevent me from immersing myself completely in reenacting. It is frustrating to say the least but hardly an impossible situation.

Following my Bentonville outing in March, a couple of my reenacting friends invited me to something called a contra dance. I had seen pictures of them dancing on Facebook and had no idea what it was about. It seemed fun, and my friends described it as “uplifting” and “stress relieving.” The music (something between bluegrass, country, and folk) seemed pretty fun. Just what the doctor ordered I thought.

My first dance was at a small community center called Pleasant Green in Durham, NC. It is quite the bandbox with these wonderfully dark old wooden floors and no air conditioning. Each dance has a 30 minute beginner's session. I thought I had everything figured out until we got to this move called the “hey for four.” I was lost after that! A good crowd was gathering as the band that night (Atlantic Crossing) is pretty popular. One thing I love about the dances is the live music. There are so many talented musicians.

I must admit to some trepidation at the start. I have seven left feet, zero dancing experience, and no musical background. I had never danced close with a man. I had never sweated en femme like I was going to that night. Oh, I was the only transgender person in the hall. No big deal, right? In a sense, I was making myself very vulnerable. Everyone seemed nice though, and I was reminded often that mistakes were expected and not a big deal. Plus it seemed fun.

I was even asked for the first dance as experienced dancers are encouraged to ask newcomers. What followed... well think about how Andy Griffith described football. It was that kind of experience... something completely new. Think of contra dance like a line dance with some square dance and folk dance elements thrown in. You and your partner dance with another couple (called your neighbors) for about thirty seconds and then move up or down the line to another couple and repeat. Each dance has a set structure which is walked through before the music starts and called out by an experienced caller.

In that first dance, the thing that caught my eye was all the twirling by the ladies. I'm thinking, I didn't do a single twirl in the beginner's lesson. I was also getting dizzy as there is ballroom style swing each go-around. Lesson number one: look at your partner! At the end of the dance, I thanked my partner and immediately found a chair. I'm sure I looked like a drunken sailor sitting down!

Contra dances usually consist of ten to a dozen dances over about three hours, and everyone is encouraged to seek out a different partner each dance. Women often dance with other women if the gender imbalance is too large. The dances grow progressively more complex so it's not a good idea to sit out too many in a row. I ended up dancing half the dances that night. There were a few guys that I felt were not comfortable with me. I'm sure I reflected that discomfort back which only worsened the situation. Over time, I've learned not to worry about it. I also figured I would have to be more proactive in seeking out dance partners. I had a good enough time to try again. I just hoped I could become good enough to not embarrass myself.

After a few dances in Durham and Carrboro (big hall with AC!), I started checking out dance groups closer to home. One of the scariest experiences was walking into Chantilly Hall in Charlotte not knowing a single soul. A big thank you to everyone who made me feel welcome. Each place you visit, you learn so much from the new dance moves and contra sets to the different people. Winston-Salem was a better experience as many of the Triangle dancers go there as well. The dance hall there (the Vintage Theatre) has a wall length mirror so I can admire myself ;) Over time, I have become more comfortable and confident dancing. I have started leading a few dances as well which increases the potential partner list greatly!

So I have to say I'm hooked. My analytical side says contra dancing meets so many needs: fitness, social, even a little spiritual. All I know is I enjoy it more than anything in recent memory, and I feel better everyday I do it. One week had me going to five dances! About those earlier fears... I'm down to two left feet. Dancing with men isn't so bad (most are quite nice!) although I very much enjoy dancing with the women. Sweating does rearrange the makeup a bit, but I've become used to it. Most callers are good about reminding you to drink plenty of water.

Another great thing is happening: I am making many new friends. A couple of ladies have gone so far as to giving me girly advice! One friend also gave me a short pep talk a few nights after a less than stellar outing where I had a difficult time finding partners. She said to give people time to get used to me, but the community supported me being out as Stephanie. Sure enough, I've had a full dance card ever since.

After the last dance Tuesday night in Winston-Salem, I was sharing a bit about my male work with another woman who I had danced with a few times. I even went so far as to tell my male name. She said, “You'll always be Stephanie to me.” That really made my day. Driving home, I thought that is all I have ever wanted: to be my true self and be a part of the world as my true self. Contra dancing has become a wonderful way to socialize and to test the waters a bit. Reenacting will always be there. My work with the transgender community will continue on as well as the needs are so great. There is something though about being part of another community that has people who will accept you for who you are. A few of them will even ask you to dance with them. What better way to spend an evening?

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Transgender Living Experience and Library


The Charlotte Gender Alliance cordially invites all to the Transgender Living Experience and Library at the LGBT Community Center the evening of Tuesday, July 21, 2009. As part of Pride Charlotte week, the Transgender Living Experience and Library will feature members from the local transgender community presenting topics related to their expertise and past experiences. Topics include transition issues, community outreach, religion, and history. Visitors will have the opportunity to browse at their leisure and “check out” each presentation with ample opportunity for questions. Special exhibits related to the transgender community will also be available for viewing and study.

Doors at the LGBT Community Center open at 6:30 pm the evening of Tuesday, July 21, 2009. The Transgender Living Experience and Library will open at 7 pm with a special introduction of the presenters, topics, and exhibits. Visitors are welcome to drop in and browse anytime afterwards until 9 pm. Light refreshments will be served. This is a free event, but donations to the center are gladly accepted!

The Charlotte Gender Alliance is a monthly discussion group welcoming any adult who identifies as transgender or transsexual. CGA’s motto is, “Diversity will not only be respected; it will be honored.” For more information on CGA, please visit http://www.charlottegenderalliance.info/

The LGBT Community Center is located at 820 Hamilton St., Ste. B-11, Charlotte, NC 28206 (in N.C. Music Factory area of Uptown Charlotte’s Fourth Ward). More information on activities at the LGBT Community Center can be found at http://www.gaycharlotte.com/

Monday, April 20, 2009

One Step Forward, A Half Step Back

Evaluation is a good thing. Believe me, I have gotten much of it over the past several weeks, and most of it has been positive. Special kudos go to Christopher Graham on a positive post on his Whig Hill blog. It's one thing to read the very kind personal notes. It's another to write positively in a public blog. All the support is very much appreciated.

Self-evaluation is also important. Taking a good look at yourself and deciding on areas of improvement is the one constant of the human race. In my case, improvement must come in many ways. Number one is my overall feminine impression. Number two is my knowledge and period skills. Fortunately I have numerous opportunities to work on the above.

Another question that has been vexing to my transgender friends and me is the idea of kindred spirits in history. Surely, there were those throughout time that found ways to live as their true selves. History records much better the exploits of genetic women taking on traditionally male roles. That is accepted in a far greater manner than the reverse. However there must have been some brave lads who explored and even lived a female life. I have been looking for documentation of such during the Civil War. Thanks to a good friend, that quest has borne some fruit:

They Fought Like Demons by Deanne Blanton and Lauren M. Cook, page 147.
Marsena Patrick, provost marshal of the Army of the Potomac, was hoodwinked by a male soldier who wished to go home and therefore presented himself as a woman in disguise at City Point in January 1865. Patrick wrote in his diary, "I had to examine a woman, dressed in our Uniform. Charley (of Charlotte) Anderson, of Cleveland.... She has told me the truth, I think, about herself". There can be no doubt that general knowledge of women discovered while serving in Union regiments contributed to Patrick's decision to take this soldier's story at face value. Patrick read the newspapers, too, and probably listened to gossip that circulated around the army camps. He sent Charlotte Anderson home to Ohio.

Upon arrival in Cleveland, however, Anderson's ruse was finally revealed after an accusation that she was actually a he led to a physical examination. Anderson admitted that he had enlisted in the 38th Pennsylvania Infantry in July 1863 and left it a year later by dressing in woman's clothes and "representing [himself] to Major Wells as a woman". He later enlisted in the 60th Ohio Infantry and left the regiment by the same means. When cornered in Cleveland, he claimed, " I adopted the course I have pursued to get home and was intending to go back to my regiment", adding, " I told him I was a girl; he told me to go home". Charlie Anderson had a famine appearance. He took advantage of that, and of the common knowledge that women were among the men in the ranks, in order to take leave from active duty whenever he wished.


Citations:
The Diary of General Marsena R. Patrick, Provost Marshal of The Army of the Potomac pg. 18 & 22, Jan. 1865-unpublished transcription, City Point National Historical Site, Petersburg National Battlefield Park, NPS.

A Male Woman, Chicago Evening Journal, Feb. 16, 1865.

Thank you to my friend and confidant, "A Union Reenactor," for the above research.

I truly do get emotional thinking about my TG brothers and sisters who have gone before us. I can go to a historical site, and the worst I get is a few stares and one questioning person. Those ladies fought to be themselves despite severe persecution and ostracizing from society. Much like the TG community today, they knew this was the only way they could be true to themselves. The above gives me hope that many more told and documented their stories.

As Christopher Graham suggested in his blog, I do have the option of portraying a transgender woman. It would be a much different impression. Yet much like today, it might prove more inspirational and educational to do that role. Those who knowingly meet a transgender person today take away a different perspective versus meeting someone who "passes" well. It is something I will strongly consider.

In the meantime, it is time to read and plan. I do love researching history and finding my role in making it come alive in the present and future.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Ripples

During the past week as I became aware of some of the tension caused by my Bentonville visit, my recurring thought was, “All this fuss over lil ol’ me?” Really I don’t think I’m that big of a deal, but I do understand my presence and my feminine impression was disturbing to many. My goal is to be as accurate as possible in my impression. It will take some time to make all the parts and pieces fit right, and I do have more obstacles than most attempting that impression. As I stated at the end of my last post, I do feel there is a place for me in the reenacting world.

As my northern supporter stated very well, one of the problems facing living history groups is that of accessibility. The entrance cost is quite high especially for women with the many layers of clothing required to come close to the period correct look. I myself had to buy a corset (which arrived this weekend from Abraham’s Lady… thank you!), a bonnet from Timely Tresses, some passable boots, and the pantalets. For someone still quite underemployed, that is quite a haul. I have no idea how I’ll do a second dress or bonnet. I have to make do with what I have. I’m not complaining as I feel lucky to put one outfit together.

The Bentonville trip reminded me of my first few months en femme. I had a makeover done for my first outing with Kappa Beta, but my second time was a minor disaster with the makeup and hair. I’m sure I looked like an extra from the Thriller video. I’ll never forget though that no one screamed or fainted. A few asked if I was ok. As I was leaving, Sherri Carmichael simply said, “Let me give you a few makeup tips before the next meeting.” She did, and I still use many of her techniques today. About six months later, I could look in the mirror and see a somewhat attractive woman looking back.

The point of the above tale is to illustrate that Sherri, instead of berating me for a clearly shoddy makeup job, chose to help me. Over the years, I have come to understand better why she did that beyond just being a nice person. She gave back because someone helped her out when she was starting out. I feel compelled to do the same for the new girls. Even more than that though, I want them to feel the joy, fulfillment, and sense of discovery that I have enjoyed over the years. I don’t want to keep this to myself. If another person is meant to be out as a transgender woman, I don’t want to create barriers. Being TG is hard enough without me being elitist towards another girl coming out. I would prefer to help them overcome the numerous obstacles.

A quick word about my transgender life... I did not choose to be this way. However once I discovered through prayer and spiritual life that my Creator endowed me with this gender gift, I have chosen to embrace and celebrate that gift. My life is much fuller and richer as Stephanie. I would be cheating myself and the world if I chose to deny my feminine being. As my friend Pamela Jones says so well, “This is not something you do. It’s who you are.”

My last post has generated by far the most comments of any post on this blog to date. The one telling point from those critical of my presence at Bentonville is they feel I have no right to be at reenacting events. I actually appreciate Ms. Sands’ comment as it contains some helpful advice. I can work with that. Jan approached me at Bentonville in a beautiful way to guide this new girl. She thinks I can do it. My challenge to those who think I don’t belong is how much you enjoy and get out of living history. Why do you do it? Do you want others with a genuine interest in reenacting to experience the same? Do you want to help grow the hobby?

Believe me when I say my interest is genuine, and my commitment is real. Could I have waited until I passed a little better or had a better kit? Possibly, but I have waited long enough, and I am not about to make any more excuses for why I can’t do this. This is not a lark or a fleeting fancy. I am committed to seeing this through. I would ask those who see me at future events and are not sure about me to give me ten minutes of their time. Those who take the time to chat and know me (and me you) as a person generally like me. They may not agree with my lifestyle, and I have no problem with that. However, sharing our stories has a way of breaking down barriers and fear. I usually find common ground in the reason we’re there in the first place: history! What a crazy concept!

One final word about CONS. I am deeply saddened about what has happened. I have finally come to peace about not being responsible for the breakup of CONS. Any group that really is dedicated to each other and its community will find a way to work through problems and stay together. Conversely, any group that wants to split will usually find an excuse to do so. I was that excuse, but not the cause. I can live with that. I would hope that the various fragments find ways to continue furthering living history. The main cause is too important to get lost over minor quibbles.

So my journey continues. Life is nothing if not interesting. It is my sincere prayer that the ripples that we all leave guide us down the proper and correct path and affects us all in a positive and constructive way.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A Step Forward Into the Past




Update (March 29, 2009): I generally do not accept overly negative or anonymous comments. However I thought some of my readers may find the opposing viewpoint interesting. I will have a response of sorts to post soon. Oh, the name is Stephanie Marie :)

Yesterday (March 21), I attended my first reenactment in female costume at the Battle of Bentonville. It was an experience to say the least. I knew it would be an education stepping out as a transgender woman into a mainstream and somewhat conservative environment. I was shown much kindness particularly by my fellow reenactors. Many of the site visitors weren’t quite sure how to approach me. However the staff was completely supportive of me and helped in so many ways. Much like my first Ghost Walk at Latta Plantation, I will learn from where I am lacking.

I spent Friday night at a hotel in Smithfield, NC. Still needing some passable boots for a Civil War era civilian woman, I ventured to the outdoor outlet mall. Most of my outings over the years have been in urban areas. Ninety percent have probably been in Charlotte, Greensboro, or Atlanta. I had some concern about how I would be perceived in a smaller town in a conservative region. A few years ago, that concern might have prevented me from venturing out en femme. Now it’s just an afterthought. I visited six shoe stores in the mall and finally found a pair of perfect black plain square toe boots at Easy Spirit. I finished with a trip to CVS for some lipstick and other supplies. Every place I went, I was treated with courtesy.

One issue getting ready for my trip the next day was one of luggage and clothing logistics. How much of my costume could I get away with wearing without creating a driving hazard? What could I pack reasonably into one suitcase that I could drag to the changing room at the battlefield site? I ended up wearing my pantalets underneath my long green broomstick skirt (which doubled as my petticoats), a waist cincher (still waiting on the corset), the new black boots, and a white cotton chemise under my long sleeve green sweater. I stuffed my hoop skirt, dress, and bonnet into the suitcase. Whewww!

Arriving at the Bentonville site, I looked up my reenactment group, Citizens of the Old North State (CONS) and found several working in the kitchen. My email contact had told them I was coming, but I don’t think she explained I was transgender. I’m sure I caught them by surprise that yes, I am doing a feminine impression. I met Lora, CONS’ contact with Bentonville, and Hilda initially. Lora set me up with the changing room.

Putting on the dress is always an emotional experience. I’ve written before how wearing the formal dresses reminds me of a time when living the feminine life was just a far off fantasy. Putting on the Civil War era dress brings similar feelings, but it goes even deeper. The costume does take a bit more time and effort to put on. Once you are done and you see yourself in a style of dress that hasn’t been worn in over 140 years, it really puts you in a different mindset. There simply is no modern equivalent. One day I will write more about the feeling of wearing the full Civil War era women’s dress. I think every woman should do it at least once.

The first couple hours were spent chatting with Lora while she served breakfast and cleaned up. I helped where I could, but Lora has the period cooking down to a science. I must admit to a bit of nervousness knowing I had surprised the group with being transgender. My voice is a work in progress while my feminine period look still needs to be developed. As much as I don’t want my transgender life to be a central issue, it does take some adjustment. Add to that being the new person in the group searching for a role, and the initial awkwardness was amplified somewhat.

I do believe God sends His angels when you need them, and sometimes they take the form of humans. My angel was a lady by the name of Jan. She struck up a conversation with me after noticing me struggling a little bit with my hoop skirt. Jan complimented me on my dress and offered me a few pointers on walking and some other period correct accessories. This is the type of conversation I enjoy so much. Jan and I spoke for awhile as I wanted to pick her brain for more reenactment tips. It brought me out of my shell as I realized this is why I like reenacting. It’s the people, the stories, the shared experiences, the knowledge, and they all love giving freely of themselves with fellow reenactors and the public.

The rest of the day ended up being quite fun as I walked around the grounds chatting with many of the display artists and site volunteers. One lady, Jennifer, had a wonderful display of care packages sent to soldiers. Another pair of ladies dressed in all black showed off mourning photos, jewelry, and other related items. If a period photograph could tell a thousand words, it goes to show how much we have in common with our ancestors.

I also have to commend Lora and her son Wesley as they did a fantastic job on a television news interview with the local NBC affiliate. As much as I preach education for us in the TG community, reenacting faces obstacles as well. Many people see it merely as dressing up and playing with old guns. Lora said so very well that it is one thing to read history from a textbook. It’s another thing to step into their shoes and hoop skirts and attempt to live their lives. I couldn’t agree more!

One incident almost put a damper on the day. After chatting with a couple of the site volunteers inside the Harper House (which was used as a hospital during the war), I was approached by a man (probably in his 30’s) outside who asked if he should call me sir or ma’am. I replied ma’am initially thinking he was joking. He then asked if I realized there were children around and if I was being a good example to them. I tried to give a 15 second synopsis of my TG life (impossible!). He repeated his question to which I responded, “If I am the worse thing they see, then they will have lived a good life.” He thought that was a good answer, wished me a good day, and left.

I have mixed feeling about the above encounter. While I would like to “educate” as many as possible, I realize it is not always possible. My very existence and life is very different than the norm particularly in this community. I literally may be the first TG person many in the crowd have ever seen. I am also concerned that a snappy comeback is not always the best solution even though it worked here. I like to approach such encounters with humor and fun. If I can come across as a genuine person, then I’ve won. I was upset for about ten minutes. Lora thought I handled the situation well. One of the site volunteers also checked up on me which I very much appreciated. It had been too good of a day to be upset over one incident.

So all in all, it was a good day as I spent eight hours in the past (about 9am to 5pm). The weather was beautiful (a bit windy), and the large crowd attending the reenactment seemed to enjoy the festivities. I learned quite a bit. Even with a few missteps and much to grow in on many levels, I now have the reenacting bug. This is not a lark or a fleeting fancy. I feel I belong and have much to contribute. Living history for me is the perfect convergence of my feminine and social being. It’s hard to put into words, but it just feels right. I want to grow and express myself in a way that shows both the transgender and reenacting community in a good light. My education continues, and it will never end. That is the way it should be.

Friday, February 13, 2009

ENDA is Needed... Yesterday

Those who live in the Charlotte area have probably seen the story of Anne Marie Clukey, a transgender women fired from her job as a maintenance worker with the City of Charlotte. Here are some of the links to the local media:

Charlotte Observer

WCNC News 36


Several things disturb me about this story, but the saddest part is that this is not news for many in the TG community. Everyday, even closeted crossdressers face the fear of being outed for something they may only do once a month. In this case, a transsexual woman living in stealth simply living her life had her past come back to haunt her. She was a valued employee until her manager found out she had once been a man. In the manager's eyes, that made Ms. Clukey no longer worthy of basic respect. She was passed over for promotions and eventually fired.

Reading between the lines, it seems that her co-workers had accepted her long ago, and her being TS wasn't really a issue. It was only the manager who didn't know who had the problem. Anyone who has worked for someone for any length of time knows that a boss can make or break a job. In short, a good manager communicates well the needs of the company or group and treats the workers with respect and integrity even in less than pleasant situations. A poor manager can make everyday at the workplace a living hell. The one constant I've seen is that if a well respected manager backs a person, then everyone usually falls in line. If a manager shows doubt about an employee, that attitude will also resonate through the workforce. It seems that Ms. Clukey's manager (a woman by the way) arbitrarily decided to no longer support her despite a strong work record.

Another troubling aspect is the comments made by the city attorney, Mac McCarley. Again reading between the lines some, he seems to be rubbing it in the face of every TG person by saying, "Transgender individuals are not protected under the federal employment discrimination laws." While understandably trying to set the tone for the case, there was still no cause for this statement to be made. Unfortunately, thanks to the lack of ENDA at the federal level, Mr. McCarley's statement is correct.

I wrote some of the following thought's to Donna Rose, and she kindly posted them in her blog. She has had much to say on HRC and their recent Workplace Report. It is rather ironic timing with the HRC Carolina's Gala in Charlotte on Feb. 21. Earlier in the day, some of our local HRC friends (and I do mean that seriously as they are supportive of the local TG community) touted the HRC Workplace Report as evidence of HRC's lobbying efforts. As Donna stated so very well, many here also feel that HRC has no place to take credit for these advances.

It is this disconnect that I feel with HRC as the people at the local level are tireless grassroot workers who truly do support all letters in the LGBT community. However we know all money raised goes to the national organization. I would even argue that HRC did not read its membership very well when supporting a non-trans ENDA. Almost every conversation I have with my friends in the gay community says they are supportive of our rights. I suppose it is consistent with issues of all kind when discussing politics with the inside the beltway crowd versus the realities in the rest of the nation.

I am not a lawyer, but there still may be some grounds for Ms. Clukey's lawsuit to be successful. Certainly the recent victory of Diane Schroer versus the Library of Congress gives us all hope. There may also be grounds to argue the manager created a hostile workplace. I hope the ACLU and HRC can lend their support here. It would make a world of difference.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Computer Games Revisited

While getting ready for the snowstorm of the century set to hit the Tar Heel state, I realized I had not updated my gaming list in a year. I wrote an unusual post about computer games that fit my feminine personality well. Note that many of my selections do not necessarily have female characters. I love Tomb Raider as much as the next person, but I do not think most buy it to admire Lara Croft's sparkling personality. I like my games to be a little deeper, a little more involved, and if it involves a pretty girl, so be it.

So here's my recent list. Note that not all of these have been released in the past year. I have at least one game on my hard drive I play regularly that is twenty years old. If a game has staying power with me, then I will keep it.

rFactor (2005, Image Space Incorporated) is not only one of the best PC racing games of all time. It might be the best direct download ever too. A road course racer at heart, rFactor was designed from the ground up with a mod friendly framework that has allowed the original game to grow well beyond the original few cars and tracks. Several dozen professional quality cars mods ranging from the open wheel rockets of the F1 world to the sports cars of the GT circuit have graced this excellent racing game. Add to that several mostly road course tracks from around the world. rFactor is decent as a single player game, but it really shines online with a few good buddies. A racing wheel is a must to get the full experience out of rFactor.

My favorite tracks:

1) Spa Francorchamps in Belgium is a lumberjack's dream in the woods, but be sure to keep to keep your eyes on one of the most difficult stretches in all of road course racing near the start/finish line: the La Source hairpin followed by the Eau Rouge curves.

2) Lime Rock Park in Connecticut is a deceptively easy looking track that clocks in at only 1.53 miles. However, the new driver will not find it so easy after running the tight curves and blind spots into the grass and hay bales.

3) The Catalunya track near Barcelona, Spain has long been a popular testing site with F1 teams with its wide variety of corners and elevation changes. It also features the longest straight in all of F1 racing. Be sure to snag the pre-2007 version of the track as the two final sweepers were changed and not for the better.

4) The Daytona Road Course is mostly on the same track as the famous NASCAR race. However, several series use an infield course along with the oval which provides a stern test for driver and mechanics alike. Look for the 24 hour Rolex Series series around the corner to get a good look at this track.

5) The Monza track in Italy is all about speed. Several chicanes have been added over the years to slow down the racing, but the fans (mostly from Ferrari) still turn out in great numbers to watch F1 and moterbike series. As an added treat, you might be able to find a version which allows racing on the now abandoned oval section made popular in Grand Prix.

Visit rFactor Central to find all of the above mods and tracks. With the death of NASCAR racing games on the PC (thank you, EA Sports!), rFactor has become the de facto standard bearer for PC racing. Other sim racing games worth checking out include Live for Speed, GTR 2, GTR Evolution, and the subscription based iRacing.

Fallout 3 (2008, Bethesda Game Studios) is technically a continuation of the Fallout series made popular by Interplay in the late 1990's. Really though, it is a brand new start with Bethesda putting its stamp on this role playing game in a fully realized 3D graphics world. Playable on the XBox 360, Playstation 3, and the PC, Fallout 3 takes place in a post apocalyptic Washington, DC 200 years after the bombs fell in a fictional future.

The strength of Fallout 3 lies in the atmosphere of the gaming world. One would think walking around in a dead world would be mostly depressing. Certainly seeing the famous D.C. landmarks in various stages of ruin is quite profound. Add to that the desperation of the survivors trying to cobble together what they can for living. You as the main character are thrust into this world after your father escapes from the only world you've ever known: the vault. The vaults are underground living areas built prior to the war. Your character was born there and thought she would die there until that fateful day. Your job: find him. Oh by the way, your friends in the vault are not exactly pleased to see you go.

While not necessary to play the first two games, it is still not a bad idea to do some back reading at the Fallout 3 Wiki site. Just be careful to avoid spoilers. The Fallout world has a fairly deep back story comparable to Star Wars. The immersion is fairly impressive and even includes radio stations with the self appointed president John Henry Adams and DJ Three Dog of the Galaxy News Network. The only weak point may be the story itself which has a fairly rushed ending. Fortunately you can pursue the main quest at your own pace.

Oh, I mentioned one game I've had for twenty years. That would be the true spiritual father to the Fallout series: Wasteland. It's a DOS based game that may take some work to run on Windows (hint: use DosBox). Even with the now dated graphics, it is worth a place on your gaming rotation.

Other open ended PC RPG games of note are all the Elder Scroll series games including Oblivion (also from Bethesda), Mount & Blade, and the Gothic series.

Civilization IV Beyond the Sword (2004, 2007, 2K Games) is also a continuation of a series that I mentioned a year ago. Beyond the Sword is the second expansion pack and an absolutely necessity to fully enjoy the CivIV experience. The Civilization series has always had the player starting with a small band of settlers in the year 4,000 BC, building their first city, and growing through the ages into the dominate empire. This can be done on a military, cultural, technological, and economic level. The ways to win (and lose) are almost limitless.

CivIV is sometimes referred to as a genre called "4X" which stands for explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate. Essentially these are the four stages for these type of turn based strategy games which start you off with your own tribe, city, or planet. The player will begin by exploring the surrounding gaming world and then expanding into it. Eventually, the human player encounters computer controlled players which must be eventually exploited and exterminated. Pretty simple, wouldn't you say?

CivIV may seem daunting at first. The number of options just to begin a game may seem mind boggling. It might help to begin on a world like we have where you know where the other players will begin. Then move on to a randomly generated world. Leonard Nimoy helps you along the way as you discover new technologies. The tutorial system is also pretty good, and the computer players will take it easy on you... at first!

For those who prefer space faring civilizations and conquests, check out Masters of Orion II or the more recent Galactic Civilizations II.

College Hoops 2K8(2007, 2K Sports) may be the last college basketball game from 2k Sports for some time as the NCAA license was not renewed for the current season. This leaves the EA Sports improving but still inferior game as the only officially updated college basketball game. Available on console only, College Hoops 2k8 can still be had for under $20 in many gaming store bargain bins.

The good news is that 2K Sports incorporated a wonderful new feature which allows users to upload files including updated rosters. So even though no new game is forthcoming, you can still play a reasonable facsimile of this season complete with all the school and names. Also included are many all time great teams from years gone by. Ever wanted to match Michael Jordan's UNC teams against UCLA with Lew Alcindor? Now you can. Of course, you'll have to decide on things like shot clock, dunking, three point line, etc. That's half the fun comparing eras.

None of the above would mean much if the on-court gameplay didn't stand up well. Fortunately the game is a joy to play with numerous options to set your offense, defense, and line-ups. My only complaint is court spacing is not always represented well. The controls can be daunting at first but are worth learning. A legacy mode even allows you to continue your program into future seasons with recruiting, early graduations, job offers, and yes even job termination all part of the game.

Combined with NBA 2k8 for the pro game, College Hoops 2K8 is in my mind the best basketball game on consoles or PC period. This got me to thinking. What are the best for other sports? Here's my list:

Basketball: College Hoops 2K8 and NBA 2K8 - explained above

Football: ESPN NFL 2K5 (Xbox) and NCAA Football 07 (Xbox) - One of the real shames in sports gaming is the exclusive licensing which eliminated some good competing products. EA Sports has the lion's share of the exclusives with the NFL leading the way. Most gamers know the Madden series simply has not improved its product which leaves the ESPN NFL 2K5 as the best onfield game. Oddly enough, EA Sports finished well with the NCAA series on the XBox (not the 360) with the 2007 edition leading the way.

Baseball: MLB Series (Playstation 2 and 3) - This series is literally the only reason I keep a PS2 hooked up and is a great example of solid improvement every year. Honorable mention should be given to EA Sports for MVP 2005 and MVP NCAA Baseball 06.

Hockey: ESPN NHL 2K5 (XBox) - Note that the NHL does not have an exclusive deal which has lead to strong competition between the 2K and the EA Sports series. I understand the 09 game from EA Sports is particularly strong this year.

Soccer: Winning Eleven 9 (XBox) - The Konami series peaked with this edition a couple of years ago. Even without many of the international license deals, Winning Eleven for many years represented soccer in a nearly perfect manner. The FIFA 09 game from EA Sports has also been getting strong reviews.

Other: Links 2004 (Xbox), Tiger Woods 2006 (PC), Rugby (XBox), Top Spin (XBox)

So while the weather is cold, be sure to enjoy some of the above games. Many can be had without breaking the bank. Meanwhile, I'll keep working on the prom queen southern belle video game release. I'm sure it will be a big hit!

Friday, January 16, 2009

Security Blankets

The above title may seem appropriate for most of the nation as winter has truly arrived. Here in the not so deep south, the thermometer will plunge below 10 degrees. Talk about brrrrrrrr! Fortunately no snow or ice, but that is the coldest in aboout four years for the Charlotte, NC area. I have a good online reenacting friend from Wisconsin who is laughing at us silly southerners quite hard right now. At least, we'll make it back above freezing this weekend. I have jokes with many friends that I like to watch Lawrence of Arabia the coldest night of the year. Makes me feel a lot warmer! Well I did just that tonight. I'm sure I'll finish tomorrow night.

With all the extra time at home due to unemployment, I've spent a bit of it rearranging my apartment in addition to sending out resumes and making phone calls. For many years, I had a bad habit of setting gifts aside and not looking at them for maybe as much as a couple of years. We've all gotten the odd article of clothing that didn't quite fit the wardrobe. Me, I've collected blankets over the years. I just never knew what to do with them. About a couple years ago, I finally put them all to good use. The older faded ones, I used in my storage building. I arranged the newer ones around couches, chairs, recliners, and yes, even beds. They were finally being used.

One of my favorite blankets is a custom made quilt made by my grandmother before she passed away. She asked me one year for some items or logoes from my alma mater, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She even told me her project, and she started working on it as only a grandmother can do. She presented the quilt to me for Christmas 2003 (even going so for as to quilt in the date of completion on it). It was a beautiful blue and white checkerboard pattern complete with the UNC logo including the rams head in the middle. It was a work of art. I hugged her, thanked her, and then proceeded not to use it for two years.

I made all kinds of excuses. The cats will get it dirty. It doesn't match my bed. It's too pretty to sleep in. You know what though? It looked great as the top spread on my bed, and it was plenty warm. The cats enjoyed sleeping on it and seemed to treat it with more respect than the rest of my furniture. I felt silly not having put this loving gift to good use. It needed to be used.

In my most recent rearranging, I moved the quilt to the main room as a partial cover for my couch. I think it is a wonderful place of honor to show off as the couch belonged to my grandparents. Being under the weather earlier this week sleeping on their couch covered by her blanket, I was reminded of their love, care, and sacrifice for my parents and myself. Even at a low moment of sickness, it brought a moment of joy to me.

It also made me think a bit deeper about the gifts I have been given both by man and God. The reason I have those gifts is to use them in some way because the givers thought I could. It's up to me to use them wisely. I learn everyday about my gifts, whether they be tangible, spiritual, or emotional. I only hope I am worthy of them, and someday I will give back as I have been given to. Oh, but tonight, I will keep those blankets!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A Question of Justice

I hope everyone is enjoying a happy and safe start to their new year. I am among many who were glad to say good bye to 2008. Despite the lack of posts, I have been fairly busy including unfortunately joining the ranks of the unemployed. If anyone needs a good video producer,I'm your woman, or man, or whatever! Yes, I get confused too.

I've had the honor of meeting Elke Kennedy of Sean's Last Wish and getting to know her a little bit over the past year. Her story of resilience in the face of unspeakable tragedy is an inspiration to all who hear her story. I have written about the murder of Sean Kennedy and the unjustly short sentence given to his murderer, Stephen Moller. I put to you the following request from Elke:

Sean Kennedy's family will never see justice done for Sean. Because of the inadequacy of South Carolina murder laws and the lack of hate crime statutes, his killer, Stephen Andrew Moller, could be out of prison as early as February. We must protest this injustice and ask the parole board to make Moller serve the remainder of his sentence.

Moller was plea bargained down to involuntary manslaughter and received a suspended 5 year sentence for his crime. Because of the credit he received for time he served before his sentencing, the longest possible time he will have to serve in prison is until September 2009. Despite the violence of his crime, he could be eligible for parole by this coming February, meaning that he will have served only 8 months since his sentencing in prison.

The parole board is currently conducting an investigation to decide whether to allow him to have a parole hearing, so it is critical that they hear from you that Stephen Andrew Moller violently murdered Sean Kennedy and should serve the remainder of his sentence!

Please consider writing a letter to the parole board and ask them to deny Stephen Moller parole and serve out his sentence. In your letter, please remind the board of the violent and unprovoked nature of Moller's offense and the pain and suffering it has caused in the lives of Sean Kennedy's family and friends. If you have the time, please write a personal letter by hand or by computer, as those will be the most effective, and if you knew Sean or his family personally, please include that information.

Also, please let Elke know if you send a letter and if possible, send her a copy of the letter, so she can have copies to take with her to the parole hearing.

Be sure to include Moller's full name and ID number:
Stephen Andrew Moller - SCDC ID # 00328891.

Send your letters to:
Department of Probation Pardon and Parole Services
2221 Devine Street, Suite 600, PO Box 50666
Columbia SC 29250
Please forward to your contacts, friends and family.
Thank you for all of your support!


I know I'll be writing a letter, and I hope the parole board will see many others as well. Seeing Stephen Moller serve out his term is not about revenge or vengeance. It is about justice. We can only hope that it is served this one time.