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


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!