Friday, December 31, 2010

2010 - Taking Some Hits

I had thought about not continuing my year end series from last year which ended with so much promise and hope. 2010 on paper was not the best year personally. I took more hits as a transgender woman in 2010 than in several previous years combined. There was much disappointment in many of my efforts for the community and myself. I was also the target of many unkind remarks more so this year than ever before. Some of them even came from people in the LGBT community. I can only guess I am riling a few feathers although the fruit is not obvious. Through it all, contra dancing remains a social and spiritual lifeline. While nowhere close to perfect, I can't imagine my life without it.

I have been going out as a transgender woman for almost 13 years although only in the last few years have I started down the road of transition (that is, committing more of my life to living as a woman). I am not a beginner at this, and I've had my share of colorful incidents and encounters. For some reason this past year, those incidents have ramped up in number and intensity. In September, I was ogled and gawked at by several Wendy's workers at the drive-thru in Spartanburg, SC. For the first time, I reported an incident at a contra dance involving hurtful comments during a dance (I could have reported several more over the past year and a half). I have even been insulted by members of the local LGBT community essentially saying my views are uninformed and stupid. It makes a girl want to scream.

What really hurts is that the comments don't always come from obviously bigoted people with no lives. Those are easy to dismiss. Many are made by otherwise nice, welcoming, accepting people who are stalwarts in their respective communities. Seeing me pushes them across a line that somehow it is acceptable to insult me, and they have no fear of any repercussions. That is why it is important that all be treated with basic dignity and respect. I don't expect to win over everyone, and I am thankful for friends who love and accept me as I am. I am slowly developing a thicker skin although the words are always hurtful. I am learning to see my friends and appreciate them. I must add that I have received more random compliments and encouragement from unexpected sources that always make my day.

I do not see a similar light at the end of the tunnel for the Charlotte transgender community. I had so much hope at the end of 2009, but right now we are a very splintered group each going our own separate ways. Without going into too much detail, I must report that the local support group is struggling. Part of the challenge of a support group is dealing with difficult situations. There will always be a part of the group that is going through hard times while others are succeeding. These issues do not go away, and it often takes significant time for a person to get out of a crisis situation. The actual discussion month after month can become overwhelming and discouraging for all concerned. Frustration grows as little progress is shown with the same issues coming up every meeting. The people who are doing well end up leaving as they feel they are getting nothing out of the meetings.

It is a difficult task to keep the support group relevant and positive. Part of the answer lies in everyone contributing what they can to the group. Often times, the loudest complaints come from those who have invested nothing. They expect to show up and be entertained without contributing anything. At one of of my first Kappa Beta meetings back in the day, Sherri Carmichael made the point that the best way to get more out of the group experience is to become involved in the group. It is one of the things I love about the contra dance community. So many give of their time and abilities outside of the actual dances so that others can experience the joy of dancing in a clean and safe environment. They give because so many have given to them.

On the national front, there have been many legislative victories. Unfortunately few of them involve the transgender community. We rejoiced over the passage of the federal hate crimes law late in 2009 and the repeal of Don't Ask, Don't Tell recently. Also the marriage rights issue continues to move forward with major progress in the courts very possible in 2011. Unfortunately, the Employment Non-Discrimination Act never came to a vote despite repeated promises. This, in my mind, is the most important piece of legislation as it involves our right to live and work, and yet it is treated like the least important.

In so many ways, the transgender community is being told it is not worthy of respect. The City of Charlotte changed policy (but not law) protecting sexual preference (but not gender identity) in the municipal workplace. Charlotte city attorney Mac McCarley has made comments in 2010 and 2009 almost gleefully saying that gender identity is not a legally protected class. We were openly mocked by an LGB event during race week in May. Many of my transgender friends have been told by the LGB community to “Get over it.” That is a terrible thing to say to someone. I will never get over it much to the consternation of many. It just shows how much work still needs to be done even with our allies. This is not true of everyone in the LGBT community, and I am thankful for the many positive conversations even when we disagree.

Much of the above has left me depressed particularly in recent months. I have cried, overslept, under slept, isolated myself, not eaten well at times, and been moody. I am fortunate I don't drink much or do drugs. My work has actually improved slowly in the past year and shows great promise for 2011. For my transition, that is the big key. I have not progressed as much physically (no hormones, hair removal, etc), but I have grown socially. Many thanks go to my friends in real life (thank you Holley, Emily R, and Pamela) and virtually (thank you Jenna T and Nicole S). It is hard to express my full gratitude as they often hear about the ugly things in my life. Their listening, encouragement, and yes the tough love has helped me grow immensely even with all the negativity. If I can make one resolution for 2011, it is not to cut myself off when I need to be around people. I have also been neglectful of my spiritual side due to my weekend schedule. That cannot continue in 2011.

On the positive side, I have grown to love contra dancing more and more. I love the connection it gives me to people. I especially enjoy the dance weekends as I feel the most acceptance there. I also learn the most as it draws dancers from all over the world. With a new camera and editing system, I can give back to the dance community by filming and posting dances from all of my travels. I am continuing my living history research in the Civil War era and gender variant people. Transgender Adventures in History will probably get a new name in 2011. It's just time for a little re-branding. I was especially excited by a good turn-out at Southern comfort Conference in Atlanta. Now I need to find a way to generate more interest locally. The stories are good. I would like for more people to hear them.

Much like the beginning of 2010, difficult decisions lie ahead in 2011. I may have to cut back on some things so I can grow in other areas. I may even hurt a few people in the process. It is not intentional. I must grow in my feminine identity and presentation so I can be a more useful person and pursue the long-term goals I have set out. One friend advised, “If you want to be a woman, then be it.” It sounds simple, but it is quite the revelation. Be and embrace who you are. I am not very good at being someone else or being what others think I should be. My life is much more fulfilling and rich as a genuine person. So that is who I will strive to be. Then I can truly fly.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

2010 Transgender Day of Remembrance

The following is my speech for the Transgender Day of Remembrance observance in Charlotte, NC on November 20, 2010. I was asked to speak on the history of the event.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance was first officially observed in 1999. However it really began with a candlelight vigil following the murder of Rita Hester, a popular African-American transsexual woman, on November 28, 1998 in Allston, MA in the Boston area. Rita Hester was stabbed 20 times, but nothing was stolen from her person. Like so many murders including those in the transgender community, this one would have been forgotten and conveniently overlooked if not for the efforts of the local community organizing a candlelight vigil on December 4 which drew an estimated 200 in attendance. The lack of investigation by local law enforcement and the negative coverage in the press only a month after the tragic murder of Matthew Shepard angered many. The press consistently referred to Hester as a “transgendered man.” By the next year, the Transgender Day of Remembrance had been established in San Francisco by Gwendolyn Ann Smith.

Smith set up the Remembering Our Dead website and started the Transgender Day of Remembrance when she realized the murder of Chanelle Pickett, another transgender woman of color, in 1995 had been forgotten by most in her regular chat room despite heavy coverage and activism following the murder and during the trial of the killer. She realized the need for an annual memorial to read the names of all of our transgender brothers and sisters whose lives were taken away. The website is a way to document all the known names and be sure they are never forgotten.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance grew from one city to thirteen in 2000. There are now several hundred across the globe including many in North Carolina. As far as we know, the first Charlotte remembrance was in 2006 and has been held every year since 2008. Smith's work on the web has been picked up by Ethan St. Pierre also from the Boston area who makes our official international list. Both Gwen and Ethan's websites are listed on the back of your program.

The Transgender Day of Remembrance serves as a means of calling attention to lost lives by means of brutal murder. Most of these murders remain unsolved. We remind all of our friends, whether they be transgender, gay, or straight that we are your family members, co-workers, worshipers in houses of prayer, and fellow human beings. While we often talk about hate crimes and other appropriate legislative efforts, this is not about politics. This is not about building up any one person's or organization's ego. No one should benefit from politicizing our dead. It is about basic human dignity. It is about seeing the sunrise, the dawn of a new day and all the hope and promise that comes with it. We understand that when one life is taken away because of who they are, we all lose.

I had the honor earlier this year to visit the USS Arizona memorial in Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. In the midst of untold natural beauty on the island paradise, the memorial is a stark contrast that remembers the American men and women who gave their lives on that awful day that will live in infamy. It is a quiet serene place above the wreckage of the sunken ship with oil still drifting to the top of the water. At the back wall of the third and last room sits engraved all the names... over one thousand names. That's when the enormity and significance of the day hits you. For me, it was quite overwhelming. When we read the names tonight, don't be afraid to be affected by it. Think about each one. Some, especially those listed as unidentified, did not receive a proper burial, a real funeral, a time for friends and family to pay their last respects. Let us undertake that role tonight. Thank you.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Transgender Adventures in History outline

I recently brought back the Transgender Adventures in History presentation at the last Southern Comfort Conference in Atlanta. Walking through the hotel lobby wearing my green Civil War era dress, several people approached me about attending the seminar but had conflicts with the scheduled time. They asked about an outline of my seminar notes. So here is a Reader's Digest version of the presentation. Of course, it is better to attend if only to see the beauty of me in a corset, hoop skirt, bonnet, and big dress! My next presentation is September 28, 7 pm at the Charlotte LGBT Community Center as part of Pride Charlotte Week.

Transgender Adventures in History is designed as a combination of my gender identity and mainstream reenacting. At the 2006 Southern Comfort Conference, I was so moved by what all my transgender brothers and sisters were doing that I decided to revisit some old ideas. I presented the seminar idea following 2007 SCC and have continued with it ever since. It is for both the LGBT and mainstream communities.

Part one is the historical characters themselves. These are pre-twentieth century folks who lived another gender identity for some portion of their lives and were celebrated for it. My philosophy is to leave the 20th and 21st centuries at the doors as those periods are better known. I enjoy discovering those who persevered and even thrived even without the benefit of medical technology, support groups, and a good makeup mirror. My current rotation (in no particular order) is the Greek hero Achilles, pirates Mary Read and Anne Bonny, Chevalier Charles d'Eon de Beaumont, Deborah Sampson, Albert Cashier, and Sarah Emma Edmonds. The last three fought in American wars and showed tremendous bravery living as men.

Part two is a brief fashion history of American women in the 19th century. Many are fascinated at my dress and how it is put together. After all, no one can go into any store today and buy clothing resembling such a dress. So many of my reenacting women friends talk of the feeling of putting on the dress and how it takes your mind back to a different time and place. It really is an amazing feeling. I describe the many layers of my outfit and the purpose of each. I also show period and reenacting photographs with various styles from around the Civil War.

Part three, the newest addition, is about Civil War era dancing. My recent discovery of contra dancing actually flows pretty well into many of the dances popular during the Civil War. Dancing was important as a social construct and as a form of escape from the rigors of war. Like any art form, the American dance had evolved from its European roots. Group dancing such as quadrilles (i.e. square dancing) were the predominant dance forms although couples dances like waltzing were popular as well. Of course, dancing in my dress is a bit more refined and gentile than the modern contra dance. If time and space permits, I try to show a few of the basic dance moves.

The final part is my stories from reenacting trips and living history including the story of the green dress, the Ghost Walks, and Bentonville. I also include terms and a brief history of Civil War reenacting. Many outsiders assume that reenacting is just dress-up and boys playing with toy guns. Nothing could be further from the truth as Civil War reenacting has become a serious hobby for many over the last 50 years. Many movies from recent years have relied upon the knowledge of seasoned reenactors for authenticity. Needless to say, my going out as a transgender women acts a bit of spice and intrigue to the story!

The presentation concludes with my hope that LGBT people will be inspired by my stories. I speak of ideas, thoughts, and aspirations that we put in little boxes only to set them aside and never consider. We used words like "fantasy", "impossible", "dream", and "wish." A few years ago, I decided to reconsider this idea of reenacting as part of my gender journey. I no longer wanted to dream and fantasize about it. I wanted to pursue it knowing that the path wouldn't be easy, but it would stretch and push me like never before. As a result, I have grown in both my mainstream presentation and my inner soul as a woman. The seminar is the result of that continuing journey.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Clearing the Gunk Out

Nothing like a hometown dance with a wonderful band to clear all the gunk out of your heart, soul, and mind.

I posted the above on my Facebook page last Wednesday night following a particularly fun dance in Charlotte with the band Nor’Easter. It was a magical night where it seemed every partner and I were in sync with each other, the music, and the rest of the dancers. It truly is special to have a connection with your dance partner that goes beyond the dance and spoken word. That human connection has given me life experiences that I’ve never had before as a woman which is a special gift.

My growth as a dancer recently has been in that connection with others. You start out very wobbly learning the steps and then how to work those steps to the music. Like learning anything new, those initial dances are a bit of a stumbling process. Fortunately the contra dance community is very forgiving which gives new dancers room to develop. I was so tight and nervous the first several months of dancing as I wanted to be perfect. My friend Holley told me it’s not about being perfect. I credit her with dragging me out of beginner’s stage by helping me to relax. The moves will come. The understanding of the music will come. Don’t worry about the mistakes, and enjoy the dance. It’s supposed to be fun after all.

In all of the above, I have not even mentioned being a transgender woman. At my regular dances, it’s just not that much of an issue anymore. One of the most rewarding experiences was my full dance weekend in June in Asheville, NC. A dance weekend is just that. Dancers from all over the country descend on one spot for a weekend of dancing. From Friday night through Sunday afternoon, you are immersed in the contra dance world. I had my own dorm room at the site, Warren Wilson College. Except for breakfast, I presented as Stephanie the entire time. The acceptance and welcoming attitude was beyond anything I have ever experienced. I think being a transgender woman was an issue for maybe two dances. After that, I was part of the group. What was important was I there to dance and expand my horizons. The biggest issue was one of stamina. I fizzled out late Saturday night and had to recharge for the next day. I’ll be in better shape next year.

What the dance weekend showed me was the true spirit of contra dancing. While we choose our partners, we have little control over who is in our dance lines. It forces you to appreciate all different kinds of people, smaller, bigger, men, women, older, younger, black, white, brown, etc. The one commonality is all the smiles from dancing, laughing, dipping, and giggling. The happiness for me comes from the human touch and warmth of others. I have been shown kindness, friendship, love, even affection and intimacy… all things that I have not had in great quantities as a woman. It’s all part of the socialization process for me as Stephanie. I constantly have doubts whether I can make it in this world as a woman. My friends give me the strength and courage to carry on and embrace who I am. They accept and even celebrate my uniqueness and gifts. I can’t think of a better gift.

So why the need to clear the gunk? Besides life’s usual struggles, there are a few dances that require a bit more work. Normally it is at a new dance venue, and that was the case a week ago at Valle Crucis (near Boone, NC). Unlike the first visit to River Falls, people were not openly critical of me. However I had to work a bit harder to find dance partners as I was being turned down early and often. In talking to other dancers, I have learned that every dance community has a different culture that may not be welcoming to outsiders. That’s true in so many different activities. Add to that me being a transgender woman, and the result is predictable. I did not connect well with my partners as I’m sure my anxiety showed. Halfway home, I pulled over in the dark for a good cry. It was that frustrating. I’ll be back though as it is a beautiful setting, and the dancers are good if not completely welcoming.

That is why Wednesday night was so magical. It was a complete turnaround from Valle Crucis and made me drop the sadness I had been carrying around like a dark cloud over my head. All the negativity disappeared and was replaced with a calmness and brighter outlook. It reminded me of one of the points that we make at our transgender support group meetings. You never know the kind of day each person has had. A listening ear, a friendly shoulder, an extra hug, even asking a person for a dance can brighten their day. You may never know the positive effect you have by showing you care.

Thank you to all my dance partners both on and off the floor. You have made my life richer and fuller beyond measure. I hope I can give some of that back.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Magnolia Ball Memories

In the initial discussions for the 2010 Carolinas Gender Odyssey, it was pretty quickly decided that the Saturday night formal event should include the return of the Magnolia Ball. For those that do not remember, the Magnolia Ball was held each May (usually in Charlotte) up until 2001. For many years in the 90's, it was the premier spring event in the Carolinas. I must admit that a smile and a tear came to my eye when we decided to include the Magnolia Ball in the inaugural CGO.

My first Magnolia Ball was in 1998 at the old Valentino's on Independence Blvd.I had bought a royal blue prom dress at a Goodwill store in Wilkesboro. It was a few years The dress became very special as I had always wanted to be the girl at the prom. Putting on that dress, seeing myself in the mirror, getting help with my makeup were all quite emotional. I even was a back-up lip-syncer in one of the acts. The late Dyana Lee Radke complimented us on our timing with the twirls.

I have been fortunate enough to go well beyond my original goals and dreams. However every time I put on a formal dress, I think back to that first dress and my first Magnolia Ball. It is a symbol of dreams coming true and more to come.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

I Love My Friends!

Those who are friends with me on Facebook have already seen part of this story. I have had conversations with transgender people over the years whether it is worth the effort to be out in the world as a TG woman. This is my response. One disclaimer and caveat is that your mileage may vary. What works for me may not work for you. That's just life.

For the longest time, I had been looking for another social outlet as Stephanie. I had a desire to make friends and be around people who knew me as the real me. I have been very blessed in the past 10 months to have found this outlet in contra dancing. While it hasn't always been easy, it has been rewarding in a way that I could have never imagined before. One of my TG friends, Paige, said it very well that you will of course meet people who reject you out of hand. That's life. The opposite is also true. I have many new lifelong friends.

One of my dance friends, Holley, told me around the holidays how much the Charlotte dance community thought about me. I had been struggling with feeling accepted completely there, and she wanted to make me feel better about the situation. I didn't believe her totally until an incident Monday night.

Monday night is the regular Charlotte dance. After the dance, many of us went to our usual hangout, Jackalope Jacks. Another TG gal, Jenna, joined us there, and we all had a wonderful time eating, sharing stories, texting each other, trading food, writing new dances, laughing, taking pictures, and enjoying each others company. It was hugs all around as I left on my own around 11:30pm.

I walked outside (a bit too fast I might add) and was immediately read by two half drunk twenty something men. One immediately said, "What the f*** is that?" I kept on walking as I always do in that situation. Turning on the iced over wooden walkway, I slipped and almost fell twice. Knowing their eyes were boring right into me, I regained my composure, looked over my shoulder, and then walked slowly to my car. As I turned the corner of the building, I heard a few guffaws and grunts.

I've reached the point where I honestly do not care what people like that think. It is meaningless to me. My main concern was for my safety. Most of us who have been out in public know that adults in general are usually too polite to say anything to us even if they are offended or taken back. These two crossed that line with little effort. I was concerned they would cross other lines. Fortunately they didn't. Still it is a lesson that I should have had someone with me that late at night.

Returning home, I posted a quick Facebook status: "Not the most graceful exit from Jackalopes... otherwise a fun night!" My friend Julie asked what had happened, and I gave her the quick version. I had so many responses of support the next two days. I was really moved that what could have been a depressing incident turned into something so heartwarming. I received notes from people in the TG, contra dance, church, gay, and straight communities. Pastor Nancy said it best: "I sincerely doubt that those who made hateful remarks are as loved by as many as you are Steph. One reaps what one sows. A hateful heart only attracts hateful people."

I rarely toot my own horn, but this is why I am out there. All the labels in the world didn't matter. I have friends who know the real me which goes beyond being transgender. I like to think I got there by being gracious and genuine. If people are interested, I am glad to talk about my transgender life. I don't force it down people's throat. I may be the first transgender person they knowingly meet and interact with. Now they have a positive impression of our community which I hope makes it easier for those who follow. I take that responsibility seriously.

So Holley was right more than either of us knew. So many stood up for me, and I do the same for them. It's not about the labels. It is about the friendships which come from unlikely places and develop in surprising and beautiful ways. Those are the blessings I count daily.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Perspective

One of my favorite scenes in Dead Poet's Society involves the Robin Williams character asking his poetry students to stand on their desks. Initially thinking the exercise silly, the students comply with wondrous results. An otherwise ordinary classroom looks very different from an unfamiliar position. The idea is of course that a change of location, even something very simple, produces a very different view of the world.

Contra dancing has somewhat of a similar perspective element. You're always in motion with regards to the dance floor and the people around you. However one move, the swing, has the wondrous capacity even while in motion to make the world stand still. It all depends on where you look. If you point your eyes in the space around you, the world becomes a literally dizzying confusing place. It is near impossible to maintain balance. Looking at your partner's eyes produces the opposite effect of calm and stillness. He/she is in the same place for the whole move with respect to you. Your partner becomes your rock, your solid place. Looking at your partner also gives both of you a greater connection during the dance. That connection is something I'm still learning. It is more than learning the moves of the dance. It involves an unspoken communication that is quite beautiful when fully realized.

My perspective living in both the female and male worlds also changes as I move between the two. While I consider myself the same person no matter which gender I present, the roles are so different to make it seem like I'm a different person. It is one of the more difficult aspects of living a 50/50 life. In my mind, I know who I am which goes well beyond my transgender identity. I do many other things in life. As a transgender woman, it is often problematic for a person to look beyond my presentation. Those who do take the time to see the whole person have become amazing friends. When presenting as a male, I have to act many times in a way that is contrary to my inner being. It is as much survival instinct as anything as I still work in the male world. It is an unusual perspective that few ever experience. I believe in the long run as I move towards more of a feminine presentation that it will be useful. For the time being, it takes much energy to maintain that balance.

Time is one element that is constant. It moves at a consistent pace. Yet, our perspective of various events whether personal or global is always changing. Certainly some events such as September 11 or Pearl Harbor lose little of their emotional impact and intensity for those that lived through them. Most wounds do heal over time. Each day, each week's issues and problems will fade in the overall tapestry of our lives. That is why I am thankful for friends who help me maintain a proper perspective. Keeping my eyes on my partner during a contra dance swing reminds me that in the midst of a group dance, peace and lasting friendships are formed by being focused on the one you're with.

Friday, January 1, 2010

2009 - Learning to Fly

Wishing all a very happy and joyous 2010. I begin my first post of the new year with a look back at the old year. I posted on Facebook on New Year's Eve:

I have dubbed 2009 the year I grew my wings and learned to fly with some nervous but certain steps into the world. In 2010, I will fly higher into that world and soar like the great eagle.

Later that night while waltzing at the contra dance, my partner Gretchen asked me if I felt I had transitioned in 2009. I don't think she meant transition in the sense that the transgender community uses the term (i.e. full-time living, surgery, etc.). I think she was asking about how I viewed myself. I said yes in the sense that I had begun socializing in the mainstream world as Stephanie. She agreed and added that it showed very much in my dancing. I am always moved when a friend makes that kind of comment. Looking back, it seems I am being shown a path that I had never before considered. It involves being vulnerable and more intimate with people. Before I had taken baby steps. In 2009, I took a leap of faith. The old saying is true. I grew wings along the way.

I started 2009 very much wanting to become more involved in Civil War reenacting. My experience in Bentonville in March however was very much a reality check. It was quite educational to see that world. I didn't even really think at the time that what I was doing was particularly a big deal. I was simply following the next logical step in my reenacting goals. Along the way, I realized that I learn the most when I put myself in less than ideal circumstances. Some of my dreams are so big that I don't care what others think about them. Yet I do care about how my presentation is perceived. I so do not want to be a man in a dress because I don't see myself that way. The hard lesson was that my presentation must continue to improve. Due to those issues and others (finances, time, etc.), reenacting was put on the back burner in 2009. It is not going away though. I will return at a time when I can give this wonderful hobby its proper time and respect.

Out of that March episode came an invitation from Stormi, my reenacting contact, and her boyfriend Peter to a contra dance in Durham. We had never met face to face, and I was happy she wanted to chat even after the Bentonville situation. Thinking back, they may have known that I needed to expose myself to the world more. I needed to socialize as Stephanie with the mainstream. Maybe they thought contra dancing would be uplifting, and I would be more accepted in that community. Maybe they wanted to make up for a bad incident. I enjoyed that first dance enough to return. I even found contra dances locally in Charlotte and Winston-Salem. Ironically, I have not been back to the Triangle dances since July due to scheduling and the odd snow storm or two.

A few dances from the past year are worth noting. My first trip to a dance in Charlotte was one of the scariest things I've done. I had become comfortable with the Triangle dancers (and hopefully they with me), and now I was walking into a new place knowing virtually no one. A special thank you goes to Dean, Lisa, and Hampton for being so welcoming that night. Also a big thanks goes to Will, Emily, Heather, and Cynthia at the Winston-Salem dances for their friendship and support. Other favorite dances from the year were Contrathon in Glendale Springs, Feet Retreat at Camp Sertoma, the Charlotte Halloween dance where I actually danced in a prom dress for the first time, and last night's New Year's Eve where I actually danced in a little black dress for the first time.

One dance trip that I have not mentioned was a Halloween night trip to River Falls in northwest South Carolina. Like Bentonville, I put myself in a less than ideal spot. I chose not to wear a costume as it was a long trip. You can guess what happened from there. I was called names that I had not heard since junior high. The pre-dance time was not very pleasant. They didn't know how to react to me. I think many were surprised that I knew the woman's role in the contra set. Fortunately, the cavalry came to the rescue in the form of Holley, Tracie, and Britt who arrived later. It was so good to see friendly faces. Holley, in particular, is the one that keeps me grounded whenever I'm upset at people's reactions. She's also a wonderful teacher encouraging me to take the lead role. I returned to River Falls the Saturday before Christmas with much better results. Maybe it was a different crowd especially not being Halloween, but I had a much better time. The girl power that night was off the scale as the women were very much into the dancing. I enjoyed the feeling of being one of the girls and feeding off that energy. It was quite infectious.

Another positive in 2009 was the growth in the Charlotte LGBT community. Of note were the Pride Charlotte week programs including the Transgender Living Experience and Library. I was honored to organize that event and gratified at the excellent presentations and turn-out. Another noteworthy series is the roundtable discussions at the center. Kudos to Pamela and Teresa for their leadership in those monthly discussions. It's amazing how certain subjects (religion, discrimination, etc.) pop up no matter the original topic. It has been an educational experience to meet so many of my brothers and sisters going through similar struggles in their daily lives. I believe we in the LGBT community have so much in common. We may not always understand each other, but we are often the best support structure. Finally the Transgender Day of Remembrance is a solemn time to remember those who have passed on due to hate and violence. I was proud to see so many join us for that event.

The growth however is in fits and starts. Some of the conversation during the Christmas potluck at the community center was on the need for more cooperation from the various entities of the LGBT community. The old saying is true about a house divided. We as a community must come together and pool our resources. Otherwise none of us will make it.

The same is true of the transgender community. We have many outstanding outreaches going on by individual members. Many of us go out and do our thing and then report back at our Charlotte Gender Alliance meetings. I feel the allure of the mainstream world as being out is the start to fulfilling the long term goal of living completely as Stephanie. Yet I never want to abandon the transgender community. There are too people to reach and too many stories to tell.

2009 was also a time I began a return to my faith, and it has been way too long. I need to be in a family of believers after several years of being a lone ranger. Thank you to the Trinity United Church of Christ in Concord for being so welcoming. I look forward to becoming more committed to my church family. I take to heart their line of, “God is still speaking.” I pray everyday for wisdom, guidance, and strength for our leaders, the world, and finally myself. None of the above happens by coincidence. God through the Holy Spirit and the Bible speaks to me everyday. I am very much a work in progress. I was created this way to His glory. I can only hope that I become closer everyday to who I am intended to be.

In 2009, I grew wings. In 2010, I soar. Thank you to all my friends, new and old. You have enriched this girl's life beyond measure. You are the wind beneath those newly grown wings. For so long, I had been scared to become too close to people as Stephanie thinking I would drive them away if they knew me too well. I assumed the worst of the people in the mainstream world. The opposite became true in 2009. While there are some who are and may never be comfortable with me, I found friends willing to reach out to me. They shared of their life, their experiences, even their love. I have been shown kindness, dignity, tenderness, respect... all the things that we as human beings need to make it in this world. With all of these things, life is good. The best is yet to come.